I know a very limited number of things. I know what it is like to grow up in
What I don’t know could float supertankers.
Writers are often told, “Write what you know.” Well, as you can see, that would put me in real trouble. Not only have I never been to any of the places or times I’ve set my stories in, but I’ve never committed a fraud or run away from home or fallen in love with a boss.
Or, as is the case in NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, ended a marriage.
Instead, my own rule has always been, Write What I Understand.
There are things I do not understand. Ménage-à-trois is the first thing that comes to mind—or basically any kind of multi-partner arrangement. Not that I don’t understand why people do it, but that I do not get, given my own views and experiences, how that leads to durable contentment for all parties involved. My take on relational happiness is two people focused on and devoted to each other, in faithfulness and equality.
But beyond a few such dead ends, I understand a great many things. Based on what I already know of my own immaturity, impulsiveness, and lack of will power, I can see how people would go beyond where I would pull up to a dead stop. I can see how they would do the unforgivable. I can see how they would make stupid decisions because they either cannot see any other way out or choose to ignore the consequences for the gratifications of the moment.
And then, there is my other rule: Write What I Can Imagine.
Or perhaps, What I Aspire To. My greatest aspiration is to one day achieve true generosity of spirit. It is easier to understand human frailties than to forgive them—all cynics understand human frailties. And it is easier to just understand that I’m a certain way rather than to undertake the effort to be better, to explore my own true potential.
So my books, in a way, are my meditations on this sincere but frequently bumbling aspiration of mine, on true generosity of spirit. Given that I understand how my characters get into such troubles, how do they extricate themselves from it? How do they rise above? How do they deal with their often justifiable hurt and anger? And how do others among them deal with their regret and self-loathing over things that cannot be undone?
I like to believe that my characters find the strength and courage and maturity in themselves to do what they need to do, whether it is to refuse to back down, to sacrifice, or to forgive.
Getting them there is the most difficult and, in the end, most rewarding part of writing. Because it is like getting myself there, however briefly. To bask in the extraordinary grace the human heart is capable of.
What I know is and will always be very limited. But my understand is deeper, and my aspiration has the potential to encompass the whole universe. (Why not dream big, eh?