Friday, 5 April 2013

Writing Fiction From Fact

Hello my darlings, I'm just here to wave a quick hello before I let the lovely and talented Patti Callahan Henry take over. She stopped by today to talk about her newest book "And Then I Found You" which is based on the true story of her family and is to be released on April 9th 2013. So, without further ado, I present: Patti!

From Goodreads:
Katie Vaughan is no stranger to tough choices.
She’s made them before. Now it’s time to do it again.

Kate has a secret, something tucked away in her past. And she’s getting on with her life. Her business is thriving. She has a strong relationship with her family, and a devoted boyfriend whom she wants to love with all her heart. If Kate had ever made a list, Rowan would fill the imagined boxes of a perfect mate. She wants the facts to move from her head toward her heart and settle in with deep love, something past admiration and comfort. But when Kate discovers the small velvet box hidden in Rowan’s drawer, she panics.
It always happens this way. Just when Kate thinks she can love, just when she believes she can conquer the fear, she’s filled with dread. And she wants more than anything to make this feeling go away. But how?
When the mistakes have been made and the running is over, it’s time to face the truth. Kate knows this. She understands that a woman can never undo what can never be undone. Yet, for the first time in her life she also knows that she won’t fully love until she confronts those from her past. It’s time to act.
Can she do it? Can she travel to the place where it all began, to the one who shares her secret? Can the lost ever become found?
And Then I Found You gives new life to the phrase “inspired by a true story.” By travelling back to a painful time in her own family’s history, the author explores the limits of courage, and the price of a selfless act.
In this heartfelt novel of love, loss, and reunion, a woman reconnects with her first love, and the daughter they placed for adoption some thirteen years before.

Writing Fiction From Fact

Patti Callahan Henry

No matter how many novels I write, when I start a new one I must begin again. It’s a new book, a new story and a new me sitting down at the blank page. But this time, as I sat down to write AND THEN I FOUND YOU, I had a confidence I’d never had before, and this is why: I knew the story! I knew the beginning, the middle and the end. This would be easy, right?

            This is the truth: nothing about writing a novel is quick and easy. Just to think it will be easy is your clue that it won’t be. Trust me on this one.

Here was my plan: I would write a novel inspired by a true adoption-reunion in my family, an event I was familiar with in the most intimate way. My sister (it was her story) wanted me to write the book. My family wanted me to write the book. Anyone and everyone who heard the real-life-story wanted me to write the book. And I wanted to write the book. Or so I thought.

I wouldn’t have to imagine much at all because the real-life story had started twenty-two years before when my sister placed a beautiful daughter for adoption. Then in April of 2010, we received a Facebook request from a young girl in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – my sister’s daughter had found us! The real-life story was fascinating and full of synchronicity, mystery and a little bit of magic. The narrative had it all: love lost, love found, a miraculous reunion and redemption in the patient waiting.

I started writing, but instead found I was dictating facts: pages and pages of facts. She did this and then he did that and then she said this. Boring. Tedious. Dull. And I was confused. How could such a thrilling story be so dreary?

There were a few answers to this singular question, but the one that hit home for me was this: in search for an easier way I’d abandoned my personal writing process. I hadn’t taken into account the way I write, the way I tell a story, the personal architecture of my novels.

We all do this storytelling thing differently, which is why the craft of novel-writing is so hard to teach. Some writers outline, others obsess and then pour it out in a month’s time, others have storyboards and visual prods. Some write non-fiction in a compelling manner (I didn’t). There might be as many ways to write a novel as there are novelists, but after eight published ones, I’d learned my way. I always want to learn new and better techniques (we never stop learning, I hope), but I know what my process involves: I start with a ‘what if’ and a vague ending. Then every day, I sit down and think, “I wonder what happens nex?t”. And therein was the inherent problem with this true-life adoption reunion story: I already knew what happened next so I lost interest. I lost emotional energy, curiosity and passion.

When I understood where I’d gone wrong, I stepped back and mourned a little bit over lost time. I didn’t want to re-learn what I already knew, but much of writing involves the process where we must begin-again and again and then again. We talk about the rewriting, and of course the adage is true – writing is rewriting. But crafting a story is also about having to start over when things aren’t working.

            And begin-again I did. I looked into the heart of the story (not the facts), and I asked: What truth of this story is to be told? What happens when the thing we’ve always dreamed of happening does? What is this story about? What did it and does it mean to me?

For me, this story was about living with the unknown (something I don’t do well at all). This story was about groundlessness and interminable waiting. In my novel, Between the Tides, a character says, “The right thing at the wrong time is never the right thing.” The pain of waiting for the right time can be unbearable. So how does the character carry all of this pain? How does she live a life with unknowing and the ache of waiting? How does a reunion change a life?

Now, there’s a story.

I put aside the facts and wrote about a young woman who’d done the best she could, and yet still found herself in a terrible situation with few options. I changed the real names, the ages, the jobs, the dates and the towns. I wrote about the life of a young woman and her adopted first-born child, both wondering what had become of one another, both wondering if they’d ever meet. I explored the extraordinary changes that a reunion can bring to a life and to a family.

            I snuck some family-facts into the narrative, clues that lead to the true-life story. And yet what I really did was uproot the facts to tell the same truth, different story.
Patti Callahan Henry is the National Bestselling author of six novels with Penguin/NAL (Losing the Moon, Where the River Runs, When Light Breaks, Betweeen the Tides, The Art of Keeping Secrets, and Driftwood Summer).

Patti is hailed as a fresh new voice in southern fiction. She has been short-listed for the Townsend Prize for Fiction and has been nominated for the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Fiction Novel of the Year. She is a frequent speaker at luncheons, book clubs and women’s groups where she discusses the importance of storytelling and anything else they want to talk about.
Patti grew up as a Minister’s daughter, learning early how storytelling effects our lives. She grew up spending her summers on Cape Cod where she began her love affair with the beach, ocean, tides and nature of the coast. Moving south at the tender age of twelve, she found solace in books and stories. While attending Auburn University, she met a southern boy who later proposed on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, next to a historic lighthouse overlooking the Sound. After earning her Master’s degree in Child Health, Patti worked as a Clinical Nurse Specialist until her first child was born.

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