I’m preparing a book for publication that’s a little different than everything else I’ve written. I’m writing a blog post about it because I’m Canadian and we like to explain shit up here. Now, you’re all used to my hilarious wit (if you don’t think I’m hilarious, we’ll have to break up), and I’m sure some of you believe I don’t take many things seriously. You’re right. However, I can be serious and there are a few things I don’t joke about. So let’s just get the feelsy shit out of the way.
Once upon a time, my mentor and one of my dearest friends, Carlos Cortes said I should write something from my heart. And of course I was all “Ew?” But he went on to explain how writing emotional/personal shit is actually good for your other writing. Turns out, he was right. Before writing LIES WE TELL, most of my work lacked something. The stories were good, the characters interesting, but there’s a certain something that makes a book personal for a reader. It’s what allows them to lose themselves in the story and relate to the characters. Whether you write something ridiculous or serious, this element can mean the difference between a good read and an amazing experience.
How do you give your story this certain something? Well, one very easy way (and when I say easy I’m totally lying) is to be able to empathize with ALL of your characters; the good, the bad and the ugly or whatever. If you can understand why they do what they do or say what they say, you can make said characters pop from the page for the reader. In order to empathize, you’ve got to get in touch with your feelings. Gross, I know, but necessary.
I admit, I didn’t want feels in my writing. I’m not a feelsy sort of gal. But I knew my writing lacked something important, so I said, “Fine, Carlos. I’ll write the stupid book, but no one will ever read it.” Then I made him swear he’d never tell another soul about it.
It took many tries to find the right story. Many, many, many tries. I examined my life, and came to a few conclusions. First, my father wasn’t a perfect man. He was an alcoholic, and he was angry for most of his life. He didn’t understand why he felt the way he did or why he hurt the people he loved, and he didn’t know how to stop. For many years, he blamed everyone else for the demons that haunted him. Second, my mother wasn’t always confident. Something changed her early in life, and she accepted the role of “victim” as though she had no other choice. For many years, she allowed life to just happen to her. She wanted help, but didn’t think she deserved it.
Then they both changed. It was like a light went on for each of them. I tried to pinpoint when it happened, but I suspect it was a slow process where they both eventually made a decision to stop the cycle and change their destructive behavior. My dad took responsibility for the wrongs he’d done, and he admitted he needed help. He stopped drinking and learned to manage his anger. My mom changed too. Instead of leaving, though, she stood by him, which is a controversial and sometimes dangerous decision. They found happiness, but it took many years before they could truly put their past behind them.
When I realized how hard it was for both of them to just be happy, I realized I had my inspiration for this feelsy story Carlos thought I should write. I created a plot, in which I tied the actions and consequences of several characters over about four decades. The reason I did this was to demonstrate how the cycle of violence repeats itself unless someone has the courage to walk away from it. Then I created good and evil characters, and added a few that hovered somewhere in between.
Finally, LIES WE TELL became a story. While it is fiction, its theme is very real.
As you’ve probably guessed, LIES is primarily about domestic abuse. I think it’s important to write about these issues because most of us know someone who has experienced some form of abuse or violence, but not many people truly understand it, even if we’re right in the middle of an abusive situation. Most of us don’t realize that abusers aren’t always “bad.” We don’t understand that “victims” aren’t weak. Many of us see the issue as black or white, when it’s anything but. I get frustrated when I hear people blame this or that, instead of trying to understand and HELP. The blame game helps no one.
Abuse, and I’m talking all forms of it—physical, psychological, etc.–leaves scars and wounds that never truly heal. It changes a person in ways you can’t imagine until you’ve experienced it. Even then, few of us realize how much damage it has caused. This is true for both the abuser and his/her victim. You never forget what happened, and sometimes you can’t forgive your abuser or yourself.
But this book is also about taking responsibility for your life and your happiness. At some point everyone has a choice: You can either let life define you, or you can stand up and define yourself.
I wanted to show how two people can be completely at odds, can do horrible and cruel things, yet still love each other deeply and without question. I wanted to show that sometimes a person does terrible things because he/she doesn’t know how to ask for help. I wanted people trapped in an abusive situation and those who’ve escaped to know they’re not alone. And I wanted to demonstrate why it’s not as simple as just walking away or saying no.
And I think I did all of that. Then I set it aside. Initially, I didn’t want to publish LIES because I was afraid some might say I’ve trivialized the issues surrounding domestic abuse. I was afraid I might offend certain groups or maybe I didn’t offend them enough. I worried the characters and their motivations might seem cliché, or illogical, but then I said, “Hey, life is illogical and cliché.” So after a few months, I took it out, revised, went through the whole shebang again, and set it aside once more.
Over the years, I’ve pulled it out, edited, and queried agents and publishers. Then after the rejections poured in, I lost my nerve and set it aside again. I repeated this process many times. A few months ago, I opened the file. I’m not sure why. Sometimes I do shit like that. Anyway, I hadn’t read it in more than a year. I was shocked at the emotions it stirred after all this time.
I concluded that it could be an important book. If just one person feels a little less alone while reading it, then it’s worth publishing. So I’m publishing it this summer. I wasn’t sure what genre it should be in, and I don’t like putting things in neat little slots, but the retailers like to know what shelf they need to place it on, so since I’m told it’s “domestic suspense” we’ll go with that.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because if you’ve read my other books, which I admit are purely designed to entertain the reader, you’ll be all “What the flying fuck is this, Renee?” You might love it or you might hate it. You might not even finish it. I had some beta readers who were so upset/disturbed by the first chapters they stopped reading. I want to get the origins of the story, my reason for writing it, and why I’m publishing it now, out of the way. (Seriously, I’m not explaining this all again. Okay, I probably will, but I won’t like it.) More importantly, in posting this, I’ve committed to publishing LIES, and I won’t chicken out again, because I know you guys won’t let me. 😉