Where Do You Draw the Line
If you’re a fan of old movies you might recognize the work of John O’Hara, a novelist from my hometown of Pottsville, Pennsylvania. His novels Pal Joey, Butterfield 8 and From the Terrace all made it to the big screen in the late 50s and early 60s. But he also has the notable distinction as being one of the few authors that his hometown refused to celebrate. In fact, for a time, local libraries refused to carry his books.
Why? Well, O’Hara wrote about his hometown and the people in it. Sure, he ‘disguised’ the names and places. For instance, Pottsville became Gibbsville. But for locals his code was easy to crack. And stripped of the fictionalization many people didn’t like O’Hara’s characters, especially the ones they thought were their drunken Uncle Matthew, vain Cousin Anne, or social ladder climbing Grandma. O’Hara’s characters hit a little too close to home and Pottsville was sure all their foibles were revealed to the world.
I’ve been playing around with a short story that is close to home. Like O’Hara I’ve disguised the names and places but wonder…is it enough? Should I just let this particular story—and the people who lived it—alone?
In a time when memoirs have made everything game, is anyone still hearing the “we don’t air our dirty laundry in public” motto of their grandmothers? Is fictionalizing a story enough? Or are there some experiences you just won’t write about? Where do you draw the line?
Thankfully, the novel Jodi's writing takes place during World War II and none of the people are drawn from her friends or family! You can hear more about her writing struggles and new authors she loves at Words by Webb.