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From True to Fiction: the story behind the story


Some of the top questions I get asked when it comes to my latest release, When You Leave Me, are:

  1. Was it hard to write about something that is happening right now in your life?

  2. Don't you feel like this is outing your husband's medical condition, things he might not want you to reveal?

  3. Is Larry in the story really Bob (my husband, which inversely asks: Is Jamie Michaels really me)?

The first question makes me wonder if people ask memoirists the same question. The second question feels a lot like condemnation. It may not be intended that way but that's how I feel when people ask. And, the third question, is a question I usually ask myself when I'm reading any fiction--did this really happen to the author.


Let's break these questions down a bit.


In 2019, my husband, Bob went missing. There's a bunch of detail in between that sentence and this one: Search & Rescue came out and found him. I knew after great upheaval and turmoil that I needed to write about it. But I'm not a nonfiction writer. The ideas for the story came to me in puzzle pieces--no one piece fit with any other.


In fact, in March 2020, I had started a different story during that first round of COVID but the story fizzled out. However, within a matter of two months, after a week of sitting and letting go of that story, elements began to arise in my subconscious, elements that filled in the puzzle.


It was at that point, I remembered a 2009 article from The Journal of the San Juan Islands--our local paper--about a lone, detached foot that washed up on South Beach. That puzzle piece slipped in next to another, a story about The Gorge in Washington State. I have never been but always liked the name of that amphitheater. Ping! Another puzzle piece slipped into place. But there's more. The San Juan Islands sit at the tippy top of the San Andreas fault. San Juan Island is anchored to the top of a tectonic plate so we're prone to earthquakes. Now, if you add a character with dementia into the mix who goes missing, you have the makings of some pretty decent conflict.


When all these puzzle pieces came into light, the story nearly wrote itself.


As writers, we must always be diligent and on the lookout for what might make a good story.


When You Leave Me came in waves of over one decade--from the article in 2009 to Bob's disappearance (and recovery) in 2019, ten years later.


So, to answer the above questions, let me just say...

For #1 - No. Because this story skews greatly away from what is happening in my life right now. It's so far into fiction that even I don't recognize fiction from fact.


For #2 - Again, no. I don't feel I reveal details about Bob's condition. I dragged, from the internet off ALZ.org and Dementia.org, possible symptoms a patient with dementia might exhibit and used nearly all of them. Plus, Bob doesn't present his symptoms the way my mom did. In fact, if I used anyone's symptoms, they more closely resembled my mother's.


For #3 - And last and again, no. Larry is not Bob and Jamie is not me. When You Leave Me is definitely not biographical fiction. My story The Last Maharajan was, kinda, sorta, maybe. But, and I repeat, I don't write memoir. Can't seem to find words to tell my real story. I find words in fiction, in the heartache and trouble of made-up characters--in the conflict of fiction.


You can find my latest psychological, domestic suspense When You Leave Me on Amazon and the publisher, Down & Out Books.


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