Between the Lines

Every author in some way portrays
himself in his works, even if it be against his will.

Frank Peretti once said that readers could tell the journey
he’s been on by the books he’s written. Like Frank, when I started writing I
had no clue how much of my own personality, hopes, failures, and more than
anything, struggles, would reveal themselves in my fiction.
My first published novel, Crossing Oceans (2010) told the
story of a dying mother who had to go home to her sleepy North Carolina town to
face the ghosts of her past and tell the man she left behind that he’s about to
inherit a daughter he didn’t know he had.
Only after I had written it, did I realize that I had been
working out my own grief. Many assumed I had lived through a diagnosis of
cancer myself, or lost someone close to me to the disease, but this wasn’t the
case. The cancer I was dealing with was the dissolution of a marriage that
produced two amazing boys. When my (then) husband asked for a divorce, it felt
as if I were dying.
My third novel, Wings
of Glass
, deals with the subject of why some women stay in abusive
relationships even when they’re surrounded with supportive friends and family.
I was able to write the mindset of the victim, Penny Taylor, because I grew up
watching my mother in abusive relationships, then later, two of my sisters. I
was no doormat, so there was no way I would end up like them … until my
boyfriend hit me for the first time and I found myself actually making excuses
for him. While I’ve worked hard to clear up the faulty thinking that put me in
that situation, (and am now very happily married to a man who would never touch
a woman that way), I remember what it was like to be abused because I lived it.
I haven’t experienced everything Penny did in Wings of Glass, nor did my family. . . just enough to get it.
Like my debut, Crossing
, my latest novel, Driftwood
, delves into the topic of a surprise daughter showing up on her
father’s doorstep. If you knew my history, it would be easy to understand why I
continue to return to this theme. When I was a girl of eleven or twelve, my
mother disclosed that the only father I’d ever known was not my biological one.
Being raised by my father, and a definite daddy’s girl, it was a life-shaking
admission. For years, I wrestled with curiosity about my ancestry and
ultimately worked out my personal question of what makes a man a father. I
dedicated Driftwood Tides to the daddy who raised me, because, I’ve concluded,
love and dedication trumps biology in the parenting department.
When I read novels by other authors, what they are dealing
with in their personal lives is sometimes painfully clear. Best-selling author,
agent and editor, Karen Ball, wrote The Breaking Point based in part on
her own marital struggles. She wrote this in her acknowledgments of that book:
“A wise friend and gifted writer, Robin Jones Gunn, once
said that when we write the books that stem from our truest passion, we find
ourselves ‘floating on a sea of reluctant transparency.’ That’s certainly true
of this book.”
I believe good fiction happens when writers get emotionally
naked. Sometimes when we delve into our souls, the blackness we find there can
be disturbing. Sometimes our shovel clinks against the lid of an unopened
treasure chest— but as novelists, it is our job to break that ground, come what
The unnerving part comes when we pluck what we find from the
earth, hold it up and ask: “Look what I’ve found … is this normal?”
It is a terrifying thing, for authors to pour so much of who
we are into a book and then let others read it, and worse, publicly review it.
As deeply personal as stories can be though, it is not just
the earth shattering that writers knowingly, or unknowingly, reveal about
ourselves in our books. Our personal preferences of the careers we wouldn’t
mind trying on for a few hundred pages, the person we either see ourselves as,
or wish we did, and even the geography we are most partial to can often be
uncovered between the pages of our novels.
One of my favorite places on earth is the shore of The Outer
Banks in North Carolina. I also have a deep connection to the mountains and
rivers of the East Coast. Nature has always been where I’ve felt closest to God
and where I go to regain serenity. I tend to set my stories in places I’ve not
only been, but want to be. I suspect other writers do the same because we have
to mentally live in the scenes we set for the length of time it takes to write
the book.
After reading this, you may never look at your favorite
author the same way, but be careful about assuming too much. Unless you the
know the author’s personal struggles, you might assume they’ve lived through
what they haven’t, or have inclinations that only live inside their
imagination. Read enough of their stories, however, and the themes may begin to
tell another story, their story.