Often, a writer’s first novel is filled with many autobiographical elements. And when this is pointed out, it is not usually in a favorable light, but more a sign of their inexperience. That’s not to say that an author’s fourth or tenth novel doesn’t also have autobiographical elements within the pages, but they are probably better hidden, less obvious. Maybe.
My first novel, Trespassers, is about to hit the bookstore shelves this fall. It is a story filled with darkness, a story of an abused and neglected child grown into a woman who struggles with her past. Her mother is an alcoholic who favors her son over her daughter. She is neglectful and accusing and miserable.
She is nothing like my mother. But people read my first novel and they wonder. They look for possible autobiographical references. How could a seemingly happy woman write about such a dark subject? What must she know about a life of abuse, neglect, misery? But the life depicted within my first novel is nothing like the life I’ve lived. I am fortunate.
My mother is the kind of person who writes handwritten thank you notes, sends birthday cards through the mail, cooks and delivers meals for people within her community who are sick or recuperating. My mother will give things away to people because “they need it more than we do.” I get my love of reading from her.
Not to leave my father out, he is the kind of person who keeps a smile in his pocket and gives it out freely. He is always quick to help others and I am continually amazed at his wealth of knowledge. I can call him up and ask him the most random question and he almost always knows the answer. (My husband is like that, too.) He was the kind of dad who was very involved, getting down on the floor with my brother and I and wrestling or playing. And seeing him with my children, his grandchildren, I think I’ve finally decided the reason we always had rocking chairs was because he loved rocking us to sleep.
When I was a little girl, sometimes after church we would have a few people over. We’d pick up donuts from a local shop, Larry’s, and when our guests arrived, the house would smell of fresh brewed coffee and donuts. The cinnamon twists were my favorite, but the glazed were also popular. On this particular morning, my mother was sitting cross-legged on the floor probably because the comfy seating was for our guests: my grandfather (my mother’s father) with his smiling eyes and easy laugh and an older woman, a close friend of the family whose name I cannot recall, but I remember she smelled strongly of flowers. My dad was there, of course, his tall frame towering over us, the china plate looking especially delicate in his large hands. There may have been others present, too, probably at least one pair of aunts & uncles, but no one else sticks out in my memory. Either my brother hadn’t been born yet or he was napping because I was the only child in the group. This did not bother me because I was allowed to join them. I was perfectly content to listen to their adult conversation and join in laughter amongst friends, even if I didn’t always understand the humor. There was the sound of fragile teacups placed on saucers and the warmth of sunlight streaming through the windows. I looked over at my mother, at her long brown hair ’70’s-straight and I was completely overwhelmed with my love for her. To me she was glamourous in that moment and it struck me speechless.
Of course I remember this moment so vividly because in my childish exuberance, I launched myself at her to give her a kiss, which could have been a sweet moment between mother and daughter, but actually resulted in a much surprised mother and a daughter’s sloppy, wet kiss smeared across her mother’s cheek. I suppose the only thing I can be thankful for is that I did not choose to fling myself at her when she held the fragile teacup to her lips or we both would’ve been burned with hot coffee.
Larry’s has long since closed and my grandfather and the floral-smelling lady have both passed away. I doubt my parents remember this particular Sunday decades ago when life was simple and the donuts were fresh. But I remember.
And I am grateful to have parents who loved me so completely, who encouraged me in pursuing dreams that didn’t always make sense and supported me when I did dumb things as we all do. They’ve driven across the country with me – more than once – and have spent a small fortune on me. They have laughed with me and they have consoled me. They are nothing like the bad adults depicted in my novel.
I wish there weren’t people who have experienced lives like the fictional one I wrote about in Trespassers. I wish we lived in a world where children were never hurt by those closest to them. I wish everyone could have loving parents like mine, who, although not perfect certainly did their best.
Perhaps my next novel will have parents similar to mine, but I can assure you my first novel is not autobiographical.