Truthiness in fiction – Mary Hogan

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By Mary Hogan

“Write what you know.” That’s nearly everyone’s advice to beginning authors. From the start, I took it to heart. The first line of my first published novel was: “My father drinks too much and my mother eats too much which pretty much explains why I am the way I am.” At the time, I didn’t fully understand what it meant to expose your family’s secrets to, literally, the world. ♥

I remember my mother asking me, “Does England need to know I overeat?” Dad had a different take. He said, “Honey, I put your book down after the first five words: My father drinks too much.” We both laughed at that.

Because my first novel, The Serious Kiss, was young adult, my parents assumed no one would read it. When the book took off, their pride overran their embarrassment. “That’s not us,” Mom would tell her friends, noting the different hair color I’d (wisely) given the parents. “My daughter writes fiction.”

In truth, I’ve always mined my own life for made-up stories. I tried not to. Honestly, I did. After The Serious Kiss came out, I attempted a teen novel about a popular girl who…what? That’s where I got stuck. Having been a nerdy, bookish, yearbook editor sort of girl, I had no clue what conflicts might befall a pretty, slim, blond girl who had a boyfriend since middle school.

So, I fell back on the original writing advice I’d been given. I wrote what I knew about being an outsider, having parents who were less-than-stellar role models and a brother who was a stunning surfer boy. I wrote about longing and heartbreak and thighs that smashed together. I created characters who wanted to be someone else. Like I did when I was younger.

Finally, after seven young adult books, I graduated to adult novels. Again, my life was my muse. My first grown-up book, Two Sisters, was inspired by my own sister who passed away without telling anyone that she was sick and near the end. I poured my heartache into a story about family secrets.

Now, novel number ten has just come out. Left: A Love Story. It’s about a woman who creates a fantasy life to cope with her husband’s descent into dementia. It was inspired by my husband’s early Alzheimer’s Disease and the crazy things that happen when a person’s brain misfires. It’s about love and laughter when both are sometimes hard to summon. This time out, I made sure my husband was okay with me revealing the truth. Or, my fictional sort of truth.

“Write what you know,” he told me. “But change my hair color.”

Great advice.


Mary Hogan is the bestselling author of Two Sisters and the historical novel, The Woman in the Photo. Her latest novel, Left: A Love Story, is published now (June 2018, William Morrow).

www.maryhogan.com

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