Having completed the third book for my three-book deal (due out June 2017!), I decided to take a short break from fiction writing to work on a project near and dear to my heart.
It’s a memoir about our family’s experience fostering 50 dogs. I love the dogs and I love my family, so you’d think this would be pretty easy, and it is, but there are complications. It’s fine to write about the embarrassing, stupid, and simply odd things that I might do, but what about all the innocent parties living in our household?
Writing real life gets tricky. With fiction, I could just make something up. Don’t like the way that looks? No problem, I’ll just change it. Bad resolution? I’ll re-write it so it makes more sense. Slow scene? I’ll just punch it up by making someone get pregnant or die or get arrested. Nonfiction is a completely different animal. These characters I’m writing about are real people whom I care about deeply. Probably more than anyone else. Certainly more than anyone reading my book.
So, it’s not really fair to throw them under the bus in order to make my manuscript more interesting. This plumbing the depths of daily life in our family and then laying it out for all to see is a little risky. Luckily, there are dogs to distract you. The story is really about the dogs, but dealing with fifty dogs in just over eighteen months will change your life, certainly it will change the appearance of your house and the impression your friends once had that you were remotely sane. Writing about it—all the gory details that were left out on the nice, sweet blog—could be dangerous.
But I’m a big proponent of honest writing. I tell my creative writing students that they must ‘write like no one is reading,’ at least on the rough draft. Later you can fix all the grammar and structure and all that, and you can decide if you really want to publish it. But the guts of the story have to be raw and honest.
This story is personal to me, and not just because I’m exposing my family in the process. At least 1.2 million dogs will be euthanized this year. I can’t save them all. There’s so much that needs to be done in terms of education and awareness and fundraising, but one thing I know is that fostering can make a difference. We saved 62 dogs in 18 months. That’s just my family. If more people foster, than more dogs get saved. It’s that simple. So writing about our experience, even if it’s not that easy, might mean more people will be willing to foster. So that’s why I’m doing it. I’ll tell my story so that you might read it and think, “I can do that.”
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