Monday, October 8, 2007

Truth? And Consequences

My mother is so mad at me. She’s in the midst of reading Face Time, the newest Charlotte McNally Mystery. It’s being released this week! I say: Hooray. So far, Mom says: I’m sure that’s lovely, dear. You can imagine the tone.

Mom is terrific. She’s almost 80, and is absolutely beautiful. An artist, a reader, a wonderful intellect. (She doesn’t have a computer, so she’s not reading this.) I’m her oldest daughter, and any psychologist will tell you that can cause some friction.

So anyway. Why is Mom mad? She thinks I’ve “used her for art.”

It’s true: Charlie McNally’s mother in Face Time is a bit—persnickety. She’s opinionated. She thinks, for instance, that Charlotte might want to give up her very successful 20-year TV career to marry some tycoon and become a tycoon wife. No matter that Charlie is happy with the personal life (pretty happy, at least, for a 46-year-old single woman who is married to her job) and happy with her professional life (pretty happy, at least, even though she’s fearful she’s gong go be replaced by someone younger). Mom also thinks Charlotte (she refuses to call her Charlie, saying, “nicknames are for stuffed animals and men who play sports”) might want to visit the plastic surgeon for some face time of her own.

Now Mrs. McNally is not, I repeat, not, my mother. But in these days of controversy over whether books that are purported to be memoirs are actually true—I find myself fighting to convince her that my book is truly fiction.

It’s ALL MADE UP, I tell her. Yes, Charlie has a Mom, and I have a Mom. But I’m not Charlie and she’s not you.

Silence on the other end of the phone.

“Of course it’s me, dear,” she finally says. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

So I’m wondering, do any of you have a problem with this? Do people “recognize” themselves in your books—and you have to convince them it’s a fictional character they’re recognizing? Would you “use” someone for “art”?

Or if you’re a reader, do you assume fictional characters are real people just put on paper?

And as it turns out—as Mom will find out if she’ll just get to the end of the book—it’s not only a mystery, and a romance, but kind of a love story between mothers and daughters. My editor said she had tears in her eyes. One reviewer told me she cried. (Which is odd, you have to admit, in a murder mystery.)

Yes, as authors we take elements of reality. Then we polish, and tweak, and exaggerate, and accessorize. But the fun is making up something completely new. Creating a new world. New characters and new relationships. And it’s ALL MADE UP.

Okay, Mom?
Do you have a contentious relationship with your mother? (or daughter?) Do you understand each other?
With love to all mothers and daughters...
Hank (okay, it's Harriet) Phillippi Ryan


Peg said...

I'm not published yet, but my mother did read one of my manuscripts. The first thing she said was "which character am I?" There was no convincing her that she wasn't in the book somewhere!

Peg C.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Yup. Get used to it, Peg. If they don't see themselves, they wonder why. If they do, they wonder why.

It's actually pretty hilarious.

xoxo Hank

Kimberly L said...

Me and my mom do not have a great relationship. Actually me and my step mother have a great one and so do me and my daughter.

ruth said...

Lucky you to have a mother to spend time with. Make the most of it and cherish it. Mine is gone and I miss her everyday.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Ah, Ruth. And there you have it. When you look at it that way...we should count our blessings, you're so very right.

Lily said...


Super funny post... especially when you said she can't read what you have written here.

My mom and I have a love-love relationship, however when I want to do my things my way, and she disapproves of it, there is always some friction!

Nathalie said...

I assume that characters are pieces of fiction from the an authors imagination, though it is clear that there can some little traits that have been inspired by true living people.

pearl said...

I enjoyed this post since it is beautiful to remember our mothers, no matter how we may. Mine is no longer with us but I wish I could remember her within a novel.

diane said...

Love this post. Mothers are such characters and precious.