4/10 Countdown: writing about people you know

It’s probably true that anyone writing about “life” has to consider, at some point, the possible effects of writing about people they know. (I quote “life” not because I’m being ironic or trying to say that it’s not really life, just what some people call it, but rather to suggest that it’s too big a word and too small at the same time.)

At one point in the revision process, which for The Tree You Come Home To, came in something like 1,329 waves, I decided to change everyone’s name. This way I could protect them from any uncomfortable reflection or mistake on my part. So, for instance, Adrian became “Adam,” and “Galen” became “Glen.” Did Latoya become Lavinia? However, every time I came upon “Glen,” I had a moment of cognitive dissonance. Who’s that? And what’s he doing in my manuscript? I found I didn’t care about Glen. He seemed rather like the stranger who comes to town, bent on destruction, and I didn’t understand his ways. He may have shared bits of Galen’s temperament, but not in a good way. He had a temper, for instance, but not my son’s endearing way of apologizing (or name calling, per my post a couple of days ago, on watching Court proceedings).

And what of the minor characters (minor in my story but clearly not in their own) who make an appearance? Was Molly to become Polly? It was becoming ridiculous. People would be trying to figure out who Mindy was, rather than settling on any deeper meaning the story might offer. I know my genres, and this is not a mystery. And, of course, in the end, I don’t say anything bad about anybody else. There may be a person or two who tested me beyond endurance, but they don’t get named. I understand my purpose, at least I think I do, and it’s not to be cagey or coy with the truth.

Thanks to word processing, I could change 332 instances of the wrong name for the correct name in less time than it takes me to look up from my laptop and see one of our wild birds alight on the feeder.

Some of the people who play a part, for which I will always be grateful. Left: Latoya, Leah, Diana, and Omni, family; Clay Smalley, who was Casey’s teacher and mentor in middle school. And below: Molly Kerby, making music during one of our SRSC symposiums.

Molly Kerby with her mandolin.