Hi! I’m J.A. Rock, and I’m so happy to be visiting The Novel Approach today to talk a little about TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME, which is now available from Loose Id. TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME is about growing up. And screwing up. And family. And…farmer’s markets.And low level kidnapping fetishes. It’s about a lot of things, but I think mostly it’s about searching for connections with people. And since it deals so much with family, I wanted to talk a little about the process of mercilessly stealing—er, borrowing—from the people I love most.
I remember being younger and getting nervous when I borrowed things from my loved ones to use in my writing—mannerisms, physicality, mistakes, life goals, verbatim quotes, painful breakups…I was always afraid one day I would get published and my family and friends would see the ways I had fictionalized them.
And kill me.
Then I read that brilliant David Sedaris essay “Repeat After Me,” about that story his sister told him that he absolutely was not allowed to use in an essay—and that he immediately used in an essay. He made the ethical stumbleground of being a writer and writing about people you know sound hilarious and fun.
And then Anne Lamott spoke at my college, and she promised that all you had to do was change one physical feature about the person you were writing about—like hair color—and the person would never know they were the basis for that character.
So I grew more confident in the general okayness of borrowing from my loved ones. (I borrow a lot from people I’m not particularly close to as well, but I don’t feel as bad about that.) I started feeling like a master of disguise, since I rarely borrow in a very direct way—my characters are all amalgamations of lots of people I’ve known. No one will ever recognize themselves, I told myself.
Except they totally do.
My mom reads pretty much everything I write. And she’s very perceptive. Changing a character’s hair color is not going to stop her from being like, “Oh, look, you used that thing I said about my divorce,” or “Still find your brother’s orthodontic headgear from age 14 funny, do you?” But she’s a writer too, and she gets it. She also told me once that I was welcome to use anything from her life in my writing. Except I think maybe she wasn’t counting on me taking her quite so literally, because there have been a couple of borrowings she’s seemed a little dubious about.
Like that essay I published about the time she said she’d chop off our family dog’s head for nine million dollars. Or when I stole some of my favorite of her OCD quirks for Deacon’s mom in MARK COOPER VERSUS AMERICA.
I saw her over Christmas, and she had just read TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME. And she’d recognized bits of herself in a couple of the characters. But what’s funny is that she knows me so well—knows the jobs I’ve held, the places I’ve been, knows the friends I’ve had my whole life and the kind of relationship I’ve had with each of them—that she also recognized a lot of what I’d borrowed from my own life.
Which made me think maybe I’ve been worrying about the wrong thing all these years. Maybe what’s really unnerving isn’t the idea of getting caught borrowing from my family, but that the things I give my characters that come from me, and from my experiences, my relationships, my insecurities—the things I think I’ve cleverly disguised by chopping them up and mixing them into a story at random—are not as disguised as I think.
Maybe the people I’m closest to aren’t seeing themselves when they read my work so much as they’re seeing me. Which makes me feel a lot less like an evil puppet master and a lot more…exposed. But I like that there’s at least one person in my life whoreally can pick apart the threads of my work and see where certain ideas or characters or scenes came from.
So my question for the writers out there—how much do you borrow, and do you ever get caught? And to nonwriters and writers alike, what about yourself would you be most afraid someone would “borrow” for a story? (Please tell me, so I can use it! I’m kidding… Or am I? J)
Blurb: Dresden Marich has failed out of high school three months shy of graduation. He’s infatuated with his online friend, Evan, alienated from his family and former classmates, and still trying to recover from his father’s death six years ago. He’s also keeping a troubling secret about his older brother, Gunner, who is away at boot camp.
Then Dresden meets Caleb, a judgmental environmentalist who’s hardly Dresden’s fantasy come true. But Caleb seems to understand Dresden’s desire for rough sex, big feelings, and, ultimately, safety. As Dresden becomes embroiled in a farmers market drama involving Caleb, a couple of bullying tomato enthusiasts, and a gang of vigilante vegans, he discovers he might be willing to trade a fantasy relationship with Evan for a shot at something real with Caleb.
But Dresden fears telling quick-to-judge Caleb his secret, and the news that Gunner is coming home sends him fleeing to California for a chance to meet Evan in person and hopefully fall in love. When the encounter doesn’t go as expected, Dresden faces a choice: stay in California and carve out a new life, or take the long road home to his family, Caleb, and a past he must face if he has any hope for a future.
Buy Link: Loose Id
Giveaway: One commenter will receive a choice of any backlist title—including co-written titles. The winner will be drawn at 11:59 p.m. on January 23rd.
Bio: J.A. Rock has worked as a dog groomer, knife seller, haunted house zombie, standardized patient, census taker, state fair quilt hanger, and, for one less-than-magical evening, a server—and would much rather be writing about those jobs than doing them. J.A. lives in Chicago but still sees West Virginia behind Illinois’s back.