Beautifully Familiar


I had the pleasure of interviewing debut novelist Maura Roosevelt recently. When I read the first line of her novel, “There was a time when the death of Whitby would have made the evening post,” I had two thoughts. First, the Whitby’s were surely based very loosely on the Roosevelts; second, it had not been her intention when she started the book to write about a famous American family. It just happened.

Turns out to my not-surprise I was correct. How did I know? Because this is how writing works. If something is a part of your life every waking moment whether you want it to be or not, if every time you watch a World War II documentary or take an American history class or read about the Great Depression you feel the long roots of your family tree curling through an entire nation’s narrative, how can you not end up writing about it? It would be pulsing ceaselessly in your writer’s subconscious, this thing you know about that you didn’t even know you knew about.

I don’t think Maura is unusual in this regard. Your great-grandfather didn’t have to be President of the United States for you to know something you didn’t know you knew. Maybe your mother was a hoarder, or your grandfather was a notorious bootlegger. Maybe you had a speech impediment until you were twenty, or your little brother had Down syndrome. When you live with something for a long time it’s easy to take it for granted, believing that to write a story about it would be like writing a story about the sunrise.

In fact, it’s fair to say I have consistently taken for granted most of what I have to offer the world. My natural strengths, the truths I’ve always known, are often shrouded in familiarity. If I know something then surely everyone else does too. Everyone wants something new. Except every sunrise is beautiful if you see the beauty anew in it, just as every family is interesting, and every life is worth living.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.