Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Where Real Life and Fiction Intersect (Part 2)

It's day 2 of 7 Posts in 7 Days--and so far, so good!

Over the weekend, I got some exciting news: Finding Grace was chosen as one of three finalists in the Young Adult Fiction category for an award called the Catholic Arts & Letters Award (or CALA). I was a bit blown away by the announcement, never believing when I sent in five copies of the book to the contest reviewers that it would make it this far.  The winner will be announced at a Catholic Writers Guild conference in NJ in a couple of  weeks--and it just so happens that I have already signed up to attend the first two days of the event, having been encouraged by both my husband and an author e-friend of mine that I should bust out of my shell of shyness and fear of all things new and just do it. On Sunday, I was laughing with my oldest son about pulling a Zoolander move--you know, preparing a big acceptance speech, jumping up on stage when they announce another author's title, starting to thank everyone...and then having to slink away in shame.  (Like I would EVER let that happen!) Really, though, winning would just be gravy at this point.  Or frosting.  Take your pick.

The news did make me feel like talking about my baby, though, so I thought today I'd give you another peek into  "The Making of Finding Grace."

In the first installment of this series, I told you that like Grace, I lived right in the heart of Plattsburgh, around the corner from the college, and like Irene, my best friend lived out on the lake in Cumberland Head.  My house was an old two-story with a covered front porch (and a front porch swing!) and my best friend's was a one-story modern ranch.  But aside from where we lived and the type of homes we inhabited--and the fact that we had countless giggle-filled sleepovers--the two girls are not like us at all. Not physically or really in any other way.
The old homestead (note the swing at the porch's far right).  I stopped my car when in town recently and
snapped this, hoping the current owners wouldn't come out and think I was some sort of creepy Internet stalker
I do share Grace's shyness and lack of confidence, and the way she feels horrified if she knows she's hurt someone's feelings or put her foot in her mouth.  And like Grace, I was not given a middle name (and neither were my two sisters), and my dad's reasons for giving them to his sons but not his daughters were exactly the same as Jack Kelly's.  That first conversation in Chapter One between Grace and Jack was inspired by several similar discussions I had with my father during my formative years.  Particularly after a nasty run-in with my 6th grade teacher, Sister Juliet, who accused me of lying when I told her "Laura Harding" was my full name. "Everyone has a middle name!" she cried angrily.  (I'd go into the gritty details for you, but the incident left a sting that lingers to this day!  I was accused of being a liar in front of all my classmates. Someday I'll get over it!)*

Finding Grace has a definite pro-life message, and so I wanted to show what the possible consequences are when people react in different ways to a teenage/unwanted pregnancy.  I don't want to give away specific details (because I would love it if you decided to read the book, and if you do, that would spoil the story for you). But recently, I was at a family reunion and one of my sisters-in-law asked me if I'd ever known anyone who had gone through the process of dealing with such situations.  The answer is NO.  Those story lines involving two characters in the book are completely fictional.  Since I'd had no personal experience in that area, I read lots of material on the subject (in publications such as Celebrate Life, American Life League's magazine, and Lay Witness).  I went on-line and read the heartbreaking reflections of women who'd actually gone through such traumas. And then I used my imagination to fill in the blanks.  I worried that because I had no close personal experience or professional expertise on the subject, it wouldn't ring true.  So if it did, I'm extremely grateful.  I prayed a lot while writing those difficult sections.

The one true-life experience that I worked into the teenage pregnancy portion of the book was inspired by something that I'd really been involved with.  When I was in high school, my lawyer godfather asked me to come to the hospital with him twice, when he'd arranged private adoptions for unwed young mothers and needed someone to help him carry the newborns from the nursery to the homes of their adoptive parents.   (Yes, I held that precious cargo in my arms as we drove away from the hospital--because this was the 70's, and infant car seats were a thing of the future.)  One of those babies was a boy with a deep cleft in his miniature chin, and if you've read the book you'll know what I'm talking about.

I also prayed a lot when I came to the part of the book dealing with Holocaust victims and survivors. Even after I knew just the story I wanted to write and I'd done lots of research to make the places and dates as accurate as possible, I had about a two-month stretch where I just couldn't sit down and do it.  I was so worried about not dealing with that sensitive material properly.  I'd become fascinated with that dark period during a history class in college and I'd read countless fictional and non-fictional works on the subject, but I still felt nervous about doing that part justice.  The only real-life inspiration I had for the Perlmanns' story was that I remembered my parents saying that a Jewish couple with whom they were friends refused to ride in German-made cars, because they'd lost so many family members in the Holocaust.  That stuck with me over the years, and it was my stepping stone; but everything else about that section is made up (although I did have one of the Perlmann twins afflicted with a club foot, which was inspired by the fact that my mother had been born with one--knowing that such an affliction would have made the girls even more attractive for use in the experiments of the evil Dr. Mengele).  It's sort of eerie that I decided to write identical twin girls into the story, though...because a few years later, long after that part of the book had been written, our oldest son and his wife welcomed identical twin daughters into the world. If I'd been writing that part after their birth, I don't know if I could have made my fictional twins girls.  They probably would have been Abe and Aaron rather than Ruth and Rachel.

So those are some of the true-to-my-own-life inspirations that I tweaked and worked into the story, underlined for your convenience.

When my sister-in-law asked me that question the other day, it made me realize that people must often assume that writers rely on their personal experiences for much of their material. So I'm going to post this meme again, just as a reminder.
So should I continue with this fact versus fiction "Making of" project?  Does this interest anyone at all? Anyone...anyone...?  (Bueller...Bueller...?)

Hey...maybe you should read the book (please oh please oh please) before you answer that question. Right? (Bueller...Bueller...?)

(*Please don't think I'm one of those nun-bashers!  Most of the Sisters who taught me in grade school and high school were lovable and saintly!)


  1. Continue, please! I am interested, especially in how the love story differs!

    1. That's going to be a tough one, because I can't say too much or I'll give away how things turn out for Grace...but I could touch on that a bit. Stay tuned...;)

  2. Now I want to know, why no middle name! I really must buy this book for my daughter, her birthday's coming up;)

    1. I'd be so anxious to know what your daughter thinks if she reads it. (Let me know--I can take it!)


  3. It's a great book! And all of us girls are scarred because we have no middle name!! LOL

    1. Really...what was Bigfoot thinking, anyway?!