Editor's Notes: All in the family
Published: October 1, 2004
|The photograph arrived in my e-mail just as we were putting the final touches on Leslie What's article about turning real life into fiction (page 38). The timing couldn't have been better.|
The snapshot was from my brother-in-law. "Do you know where this was taken and who everybody is?" he asked. The digital copy shows my father's 10 children from four marriages. It is the only photograph where we all appear together. The occasion was his funeral in Colorado Springs, Colo. Some of us had never met until that day in 1978.
After the service, several of my siblings and I spent the night in a niece's cabin tucked in at the foot of a mountain. We hiked, ate, drank and recalled our dad, who was a quintessential American dreamer, a farm boy out to make his fortune, always chasing the next big deal, leaving wives, kids, financial successes and failures in his wake. We all had stories to tell. We may have had the same father, but the man each of us knew and our relationship with him were different.
Now, 26 years later, with more marriages, divorces and children in the mix, our family has become exponentially more complicated and layered. Once, when I tried to explain to my children who was related to whom, I had to draw a diagram. But a chart hardly does justice to the material.
"You should write a book," my mother, who was married a few times herself (but that's another story), would often say. She thought our family saga would be a blockbuster, something like Peyton Place on the Great Plains. That was before reality TV and daytime talk shows.
Sure, messy lives can be a rich resource for writers, but as What points out in her article, they have to be tidied up for the reader. I'd have to choose carefully which parts of my tale to tell. One of my sisters and I used to analyze our family dynamics for hours, but a fiction reader easily could get stuck in this human swamp.
The facts related to our lives are only momentarily interesting. But looking at that photograph, I see truths beyond that captured moment--the passions, betrayals, conflicts, love, loss and the irrepressible optimism of the human heart. Now that's a story asking to be written.
--Posted Oct. 1, 2004