When Jeannette Walls finally told her beau that if he knew the true story of her childhood he would not want to be with her anymore, she told of the shame she carried about such severe parental dysfunction she could not bare to reveal it.
But her soon-to-be husband’s reaction made bearing-all more than bearable.
“This,” he said, “would make a great book.”
The Glass Castle went on to sell millions of copies, and Jeannette went on to literary fame. If ever there was a Cinderella story, this has to be it.
I wonder sometimes if those who were blessed with wholesome childhoods could become great writers. What do they have to pass on? That if you eat your peas and mind your manners all shall be well? Great stories, after all, are about overcoming challenges. Who better to conjure tales of woe and redemption than those who lived them?
Few have lived the horrendous abuse and neglect Ms. Wells endured, and fewer who had managed to rise up the social ladder as she had, long before her memoir was published. But in our way many of us have a story to tell; variations on the theme.
Fiction, more than memoir, allows us to really go there. If you write fiction, I’d encourage you to eschew the protective instinct and let your characters experience that which you know so well: the helplessness, the deep sorrow, the profound self-doubts. Let them make their way out of the darkness.
These make great books.
Use it. It’s called making lemonade.