We are pleased to announce the publication of Caren J. Werlinger’s wonderful new lesbian fiction Turning for Home.
I hand this blog post over to Caren, who shared with us what prompted her to write this touching story.
Writing fiction is a funny thing. By definition, fictional stories should be made up, and many parts of them are. But every fiction writer will probably admit to using bits of herself and elements of her life or the people she knows to create her characters and embroider the world in which they live.
Those of you who have followed my blog or know me personally know that Rumer Godden is my favorite author. When she was a child, she was accused by an adult acquaintance of her parents as being “a terrible liar” for the stories she made up, but her daughter, Jane, states HERE that she found it [“eerie” to find places, objects and events that she vividly remembers cropping up in her mother’s novels, slightly distorted by the lens of fiction. “There was always a saying in the family – ‘is that a Rumer story, or a real story?’”]
People who have read my novels say they can see pieces of me in them (no, I’m not going to tell you which bits), and those who know me well recognize certain events as having their origin in my life. An on-line friend tells me she feels as if she is getting to know me better by reading my books. I figure if Rumer could do it, I can, too.
Actually, it’s impossible for me not to draw from my life when writing. The inspiration for most of my novels has come from some element of my life—a memory, an inscription, an encounter, a regret. Especially the regrets. My latest novel, Turning for Home, is no exception.
As I wrote in the acknowledgments, this story began in the early 2000s, when we were traveling north from a trip to Florida. We stopped at Rocky Mount, North Carolina, for gas and a bite to eat. If you haven’t been to Rocky Mount, there’s not much there. Or maybe there is, but not next to I-95. The place we stopped at was a combination gas station, convenience store, and diner. The food, as I recall, was pretty bad, but we needed to eat. When I went to the restroom (another reason for stopping), someone slipped a note under the restroom door. It said, “I’m like you. Help me get out of here.” It included an e-mail address.
It wasn’t hard to figure out that the “I’m like you” part referred to my being a lesbian, but I was brand-new to the Internet and e-mail. My partner worked in public education. We had no legal protections of any kind at that time. No part of this scenario felt safe. I am sorry to say I never responded to that note. I held on to it for ages. I periodically picked it up and considered e-mailing, but it still felt scary. Anyone desperate enough to slip a note like that to a total stranger seemed capable of doing other indiscreet things.
I never responded, but, as I said in my acknowledgments, I never forgot, and I have always regretted not being brave enough to contact her. I have thought about her often, wondering if she ever found the courage and the wherewithal to escape. I hope she did. I hope she was able to make for herself the life she wanted.
What she gave me was the inspiration for this novel. A chance for a fictional do-over. The story is complete fiction, as I never met the original author of the note. I have no idea if any pieces of it reflect her story. This is where the line between fiction and fact blurs a little. The ideas for stories can come from anywhere, and as we write, bits of us find their way into the characters, sometimes little snippets, other times big chunks. And sometimes, they offer us an opportunity for redemption, a chance to right (write?) a wrong. A do-over.
Caren J. Werlinger