Monday, December 12, 2016

The Life Unexpected: Crafting Fiction From Life Stories

Our About the Author series for The Life Unexpected: An Anthology of Stories and Poems continues with bestselling author Jeanette Perosa.

Jeanette shares "the story behind the story" of "Lines," a tale about a couple desperate to have a baby which appears in our anthology.

When I was asked if I was interested in participating in The Life Unexpected Anthology, I was unsure. I realized that many of the pieces were going to be memoir. I, however, am a fiction writer. My stories are not personal experience but imagined characters and experiences. I create their identities and their circumstance. I determine how their lives are impacted by unexpected events and obstacles.

So, how could I write a piece that seemed to fit?

I felt like I was cheating; simply playing make believe in a world of reality. I contemplated writing a new piece, something inspirational, but my muses were not kind. I began to look at older pieces that might be a “good fit.” There were several stories I had written that would have worked; maybe the one about the wife showing up on the doorstep of the mistress— that’s unexpected. Or maybe “Believer”, where a mother gives her daughter the gift of faith during her terminal illness. I have several that fit the theme, but they didn’t fit me for the collection. Then, I remembered “Lines.”

This piece was a last-minute effort from an overworked graduate student with four children, a house, a husband and a deadline that was looming in only a few hours. So, as I often did during my MFA schooling, I sat down at my desk and threatened my family not to come near me and just wrote. It took me a few tries to get the first sentence. It was cut and pasted from another unfinished piece. The assignment was to use time and flashbacks in the story. “Play with time,” my professor had said. That was easy. I rarely write linear, so this assignment should be simple. The words came rapidly. I tapped into that inner self that contains creativity. That is why I decided on this story. It was as close to truth as a fiction writer can get.

I have come to realize that I am not so far removed from the memoir writer
. My stories are about women, mothers, daughters, lovers, and more. All of my characters are women that I have met in life; bits and pieces of them pasted together to form a character: the walk and stare of an old teacher, the laughter of a best friend, the tears of my mother. All my life experiences kept inside like a spice cabinet until I need a small dash or pinch to build a new fictional person.

This anthology has taught me that my fiction is constructed of people, places and ideas that I have either witnessed, read about, watched or imagined. I have pasted them together, like paper dolls onto the background of a scene I have created. It was easy to write “Lines” because although I have never struggled with infertility I have witnessed and experienced longing, disappointment and sorrow.

The death of a dream or expectation is an emotional thing. I have held the hands of friends who had faced insurmountable disappointment and grief. I have experienced what is to be a mother and the love that follows through you. I have lived through loss. It’s all those emotions and experiences that I tap into for my characters. They are not just my creations; they are a part of me. Susan, the character in my story, is a part of me and her tale one of many women.

This short story also launched my career. It was my first published story and went on to win the Best Fiction Award for Montgomery County Community College Alumni in 2012. It started a cascade of unexpected publications world-wide. It made me the writer I am today.

How about you? Can you share how stories often offer a "fine line" between fiction and memoir?


Jeanette Perosa is a graduate of Arcadia University’s MFA Program. Her women’s short fiction can be found in over sixteen literary journals worldwide including: Mamaloda, Euonia Review, Fiction on the Web and Delta Woman Magazine. Her debut novel The Secret Keepers spent over two months on the Kindle best sellers list. Jeanette lives in Limerick, Pennsylvania with her husband, four children, a pack of miniature schnauzers and a cat. She is an active member of the Just Write Writing Group and has taught numerous seminars at the local community college. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or check out her website: jeanetteperosa.org.
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