When we write fiction based on our lives, is it best to write about events when we are still emotionally raw—or after we’ve had a chance to process and integrate them? I like the “Momma Bear” solution: not too raw, not too reconstructed.
FAR AND NEAR
In Chasing Grace: A Novel of Odd Redemption, the easiest parts to write were those that I’d processed and integrated most fully. The Immaculate Conception Grammar School sections in which the protagonist, Cat, is 6-10 years old were so much fun to write that I sat at my computer for weeks—writing and cackling, writing and cackling. I was having so much fun remembering the crazy nuns, the statues of saints scattered over every surface, the “Living Rosary” out on the parking lot, the buying of Pagan Babies, and all the hysterical things that happened that I went on and on—and on! I had to cut that part to about a quarter of its original length, and it’s still too long. The Immaculate Conception chapters were great fun for me, and people tell me they read funny, but I’m not sure they are the best parts of the book.
Other sections, like the relationship between Cat and her mother, were more difficult. While writing these sections was very therapeutic for me (I often say that writing Chasing Grace was worth tens of thousands of dollars of therapy), I’m not sure they are the best sections either.
THE MIDDLE DISTANCE
The “Momma Bear” parts of Chasing Grace—those that weren’t entirely new or raw, but that were not so integrated or “over” that I tossed them around like the Immaculate Conception sections—were sometimes challenging to write, but they are some of my favorites. Two that come to mind are the sections in the High Rockies where Cat experiences Spirit, and the final scenes when grace finally descends.
Bottom line, I think the “far or near” question is one we all have to answer for ourselves. The trick is to base that answer not on what’s fun, or on what is therapeutic, but on what is best for the book—and our readers.