Questions from Readers
Q: Is Things Unsaid based on your own life and that of your childhood?
The emotional truth in THINGS UNSAID has scenes originating from but never exactly like my own family’s and there are other scenes adapted from friends who have shared moments of their family’s lives with me. When family and friends know you have written a novel, they try to see themselves in the narrative. Ironically, the scenes they identify are often ones I completely imagined. My imagination kicked in to describe the personal transformations across generations: from parent to child to becoming a parent. What the reader sees and feels in reading THINGS UNSAID is filtered through their own experience or the experience of others they know. Family secrets and flashbacks in my novel underscore a tale of growth and loss. Everyone has a story to tell and I thought my friends’ stories would make great scenes for a novel so I started recording them and making composite characters. Families are not chosen and to that extent, because they seem impossible to escape from, they make wonderful resource material for novelists. Above all, I am deeply and profoundly intrigued by how people’s lives can either mimic or repudiate their own parents. Personal development and growth occur, but we’re still under their influence. To what degree are we shaped by our childhood? Can we redirect the influences from our past?
Q. How did you choose the book’s title, Things Unsaid, and what does it signify to you?
The original title was Unhealed Wound, referring to the journey of the hero in classical mythology. As Joseph Campbell notably observed in The Hero with a Thousand Faces: “The hero is us.” Facing life’s challenges because of a wound, the hero is reminded of the unexpected shadows we all face. Heroes have flaws like the rest of us, plunge into adventures of the unknown, sometimes with great trepidation, and are reborn stronger, braver, and more compassionate. In addition, for Buddhists there is no wound that cannot heal and Things Unsaid deals with the Buddhist notion of karma. My publisher, She Writes Press, considered the title too obscure. I agree. Things Unsaid, focuses on secrets and lies, what a family cannot or will not say to each other. Even though a family shares circumstances, sharing does not unify them but instead, can isolate and distance. Every child may think she knows everything about her parents, but that’s an illusion, a fiction. Each member of a family sees differently and remembers what they choose to or only what they can bear. A child only gets a sliver. It took approximately three years’ of full-time writing about those slivers to complete Things Unsaid.
Q:What do we give up for our sense of community? Do secrets protect us or tear us apart?
To belong to any community, we have to be willing to place the good of the group above our own desires at least some of the time. Sometimes that means keeping secrets, our own or somebody else's. But is that a selfless and kind act or a selfish one? I don’t know that there is only one answer but I address these issues in Things Unsaid, hoping the reader will understand the layers of complexity in secrets and lies. The main theme – what to do with aging parents – is one that we are all too familiar with (or will eventually be familiar with). Jules Foster finds herself torn between the needs of her 80-year-old parents and the needs of her immediate family. What inspired you to write about this topic? And what would you do in a similar situation? The new old age is a challenge for everyone: for the seniors who face an unprecedented life expectancy, for their aging adult children confronting saving for their own retirement, and for their young soon-to-be adults who may be caregivers themselves before they are prepared. Family conflict almost certainly will present itself as a series of dilemmas: impossible choices about whom to help. Siblings will not agree on what is to be done. As is hinted at in Things Unsaid, caregiving becomes extraordinarily more difficult and stressful. The role reversal of parent and adult child is the pulse of our times and one that needs to be addressed compassionately.