Writing the Untrue Truth
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a story realistic.
I don’t get upset if a reader tells me that they found something I’ve written to be inaccurate to the human experience. Not even if what I’ve written is something that happened directly to me. When an editor tells me something about a story feels like it couldn’t happen in real life, I’m usually going to start crossing out words and moving plot lines as quickly as possible. I want the words I put on a page to feel like something a reader can fall into. I don’t want a reader to spend one moment pondering the authenticity of my plot or my characters, because nothing takes you out of a story faster. So I always thought I would never be that author who refused to change something I’d written because it was “my truth.”
Yeah. Then this book happened.
I wrote The Worst Bad Thing as therapy. A terrible, horrible, no-good very bad thing happened where I live. It was nothing short of tragedy, and people I care about were involved. I didn’t know how to deal. So I did what I do best when the world has lost all sense of normalcy and structure: I started writing. I started writing about how I would feel if that tragedy had been something I caused. Something I created. And so the character of Tate was born.
At some point early in Tate’s life, a few people expressed concern that his reaction to the tragedy in the story wasn’t realistic. That most people wouldn’t respond to this type of event with such despondency and guilt and despair.
I heard that criticism loud and clear. I pulled out my red pen and tried to do some changing.
Only I couldn’t.
It wasn’t the first time someone had found something in one of my stories to be unrealistic, but it was the first time I couldn’t bring myself to make accompanying revisions. I couldn’t do it. Because in the therapy sessions that writing this book had become, I had spent hours and hours thinking about exactly how I would respond if I were in Tate’s shoes. I knew my emotions on this subject inside and out, because I had studied them for weeks and months. I knew what I needed Tate’s emotions in this story to be.
I made a difficult decision early in the editing process for this book: I left Tate’s truth as I originally wrote it. I left all of his despondency and guilt and despair fully intact. And I’m certain there will be some readers who find his reaction—his character—unrealistic or unlikely or even over the top in some way. That’s okay. My red pen and I have made peace with that.
This book is the story of all the things I am terrified of and all the things I worry about before I go to sleep at night. It is a story of pain. It’s a story of a truth I hope I never have to live.
But if I’ve done my job right, it is also a story of hope. And in writing this book, I found immeasurable amounts of hope.
Huge thanks to The Novel Approach for having me here today to celebrate the release of this book! I hope you all enjoy meeting Tate and Gabriel.
About the Book
Title: The Worst Bad Thing
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Category: Contemporary Romance
Cover Artist: Catt Ford
Blurb: Iceland, Stonehenge, London, Paris…
To the casual observer, it looks like a dream trip. For Tate O’Reilly, it’s anything but. He’s a man on a mission to rectify a critical mistake, and there’s nothing to hold him back—certainly not friends or family. For Tate, it all comes down to one simple thing—he must fix what he has broken.
What he doesn’t count on is meeting Gabriel Carillo. Gabriel is kind, mysterious, and seems to be on his own mission to ensure their paths keep crossing. But Tate’s hiding an awfully big secret—one he’s certain even Gabriel can’t forgive.
Does a man’s past have to determine his future? In the middle of cities filled with history, Tate is going to find out.
About the Author
J.E. Birk has been telling stories since she could talk and writing them since she was introduced to the alphabet. She hails from Colorado, where you can usually find her skiing, training for a 5K she won’t end up running, or watching grown men run into each other on football fields and in hockey rinks. You can follow her ramblings on Twitter by looking for @jebirkwrites. She’s also been known to ramble on Facebook as J Elisabeth Birk.