Friday, January 7, 2011

Guest Post: Heather King Responds

MrsDarwin sez: I wrote to Heather King and asked if she'd be so kind as to comment on our reading of Parched, and she was gracious enough to stop by, and to write a guest post in response.

If you're not reading Heather's blog, Shirt of Flame, then tolle et lege nunc.

Hi there folks--please know how honored I am that you read Parched, and how gratified I am that you liked it (I think)...For me, the story of a drunk who gets sober is a death and resurrection story, and death and resurrection is the deepest, most interesting, most ever-astonishing story possible.
I've been reflecting lately upon the trajectory of the story of Christ in the Gospels: a very long lead-in to the Passion, then the Passion, then the fairly short "description" of the patchy, ephemeral, now-you-see-it, now-you-don't Resurrection. The Resurrection is inherent in the way the story is told. No victimhood, no whining, no anger, no blaming, no reproach, no glamorization of evil, no melodrama made out of (though no diminishing of either) Christ's own suffering. And I think that same trajectory, and that same approach, is what makes for a good memoir. If ever there was hero, it is Christ, but even for Christ, the focus was on the Father, and the Father's glory, not on him.
I agonized long and hard over the family member aspect of the book. One brother asked to be taken out completely, and when I talked to the lawyer from the publishing house (who goes over the memoir with a fine-toothed comb) I was shocked when he at one point asked: "Is there any chance that your mother would sue you?" I said, "WHY?" And the passage he quoted was the (obviously exaggerated for comic effect) one where I described my friend coming over for supper and my mother serving everybody a teaspoon of mashed potatoes and three peas! Which could apparently "damage her reputation in the community."
I replied, "Truth is an absolute defense to a slander claim and I have seven brothers and sisters who would take the stand and say it was more like TWO peas"...
But seriously, my mother loved the book, or said she did. I had a reading in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, next to the town where I grew up, and the whole family, or those who lived in the area, came. After all, I dedicated the book to my parents, profusely thanked them, gave my mother credit for saving my life, and took full responsibility for my actions during and after drinking. But it's true that different family members have a very different view of, and very different experiences of and interpretations of the same event. So I have been very careful in writing about my family, and in fact have hardly done so at all, since...
Here’s to more good reading, and true writing,


BettyDuffy said...

To more good reading and writing, indeed! Thank you, Heather, so much for taking the time to stop by here and comment. It is a privilege we don't take lightly.

Emily J. said...

Add my thanks to Betty's, Heather. Your remark about how family members have different memories of the same event rings true - sometimes I've read Betty's occasional comments on our family (we're sisters) and wondered if we were born of the same parents or not. I've noticed she hasn't written about our family of origin recently, perhaps because of fear of familial backlash. But it sounds like your family has given you a lot of support. Along those lines, one of the things that crossed my mind thinking about your story compared to the Liar's Club is that you seemed to take more responsibility for your alcoholism, whereas Karr's description of her crazy family seems to suggest that her "nurturing" had a lot to do with her later choices. On the other hand, the fact that you didn't seem to have an extraordinarily messed up childhood makes it harder to connect any cause-and-effect relationship to becoming an alcoholic. From that description of your first encounter with alcohol, it sounds like a switch was flipped that was nearly impossible to turn off. Some - most? - families just seem to have a black sheep or two, a frightening thought for a parent - maybe a genetic disposition to addiction? Or maybe a backhanded gift from God - a chance to descend to the Inferno and live to tell the story, to be the voice in the wilderness crying repent?

I wondered if your story was maybe the first of a trilogy - this part being the description of Hell, and your next book a sort of Purgatory... but maybe that is too tidy of an analogy. Plus, as you point out, art seems to spring from suffering. How many people read pts 2 and 3 of Dante? Maybe the mystery of redemption defies words?

Your book and your blog are sources of inspiration. You have a gift.

BettyDuffy said...

Heather, I don't know if you'll be back here to answer questions, and certainly understand if you can't, or don't want to. But you wrote in an author interview in the back of my issue of the book that memoir was a means of offering up one's own body and blood. I was wondering how you went about determining how much of yourself to give in your book. A discussion we've had elsewhere on this blog is the question of how much revelation is required to tell a story that is believable and that does justice the God's overwhelming mercy, but also doesn't scandalize readers. For the record, I think you did the job beautifully. I know that not every reader is meant for every book--but it's a question with which Christian writers seem to struggle (or maybe it's just me--as my sister mentioned, I have a tendency to overshare).

Thanks again Heather, for your writing.