Ginny L. Yttrup is a novelist, life coach, mother, and friend. Her debut novel, Words (B&H Publishing Group), is based on Ginny’s personal experience of childhood abuse. Publishers Weekly lauded Words, stating that it proves the adage “Write what you know.” When Ginny isn’t writing, she loves coaching and enjoys time with her two young-adult sons. You may contact Ginny through her Website: www.ginnyyttrup.com.
Life Experience Fiction
I remember well my argument with God. I stamped my foot and cried, “I don’t want to be the poster child for the sexually abused. I want to write, but not about that.” I was the rebellious child who’d asked my Father for direction, then refused to follow His way.
The one-sided argument lasted longer than I care to admit.
God was gentle and patient. When I finally surrendered, I wondered why I’d fought Him in the first place. The story writing itself on my mind and heart was of redemption, mercy, and grace—a beautiful tale of hope. And after all, it wasn’t my story. It was Kaylee’s story. Sierra’s story. Fictitious characters who had little to do with my life.
“I collect words.” I typed the first line and the rest of the story seemed to write itself. It wasn’t easy, but it was simple. I’d attended a dozen years’ worth of writers’ conferences, where I sat under the teaching of authors, editors, and agents. I learned the structure of a novel and how to create emotionally layered characters and how to write believable dialogue.
I persevered through the challenges I faced as I wrote. After several years I completed the manuscript and submitted it to an agent. When we met, he me if I was ready to be the “poster child.” Though not his exact words, that’s how I interpreted his question. “Yes, I’m ready.” I answered.
Not only had I worked at the art of writing, I’d also worked at the art of healing. Christian therapists helped me unravel the lies I’d believed about myself and replace them with God’s truth.
Yes. I was ready. Anyway, this wasn’t my story. It was fiction.
Within a few months, I received an offer for the first novel and two subsequent novels. I was ecstatic. A few months before the release of Words, I received an e-mail from my editor requesting my dedication, acknowledgements, and a reader letter to be included in the book. No problem, I thought. I began with the letter.
Tears began to flow.
I explained that the setting and circumstances differed, but the emotion and the pain my characters experienced was my own.
Fiction based on life experience, on pain-filled years, trauma, and hard-won lessons in mercy and grace. By the time I’d completed the reader letter, the dedication, and the acknowledgments, which took me back, again, to the pain of my past, I decided I’d never write another novel based on my own life experiences. I e-mailed my editor telling her that my next novel would be a Chick Lit.
But then God began to weave the story for my second book, and again it was founded in the brokenness of my own life. This time I didn’t argue. I assigned my pain to my characters. It isn’t just my story. It’s their story. And it’s the readers’ stories.
Fiction based on life experience spans the genres. Romance authors, suspense authors, and mainstream authors are addressing relevant, contemporary issues based on their own suffering. Brandilyn Collins’s upcoming release,—Over the Edge (B&H Publishing Group, May 2011), is a life-experience novel based on Brandilyn’s battle against Lyme disease.
What can a reader of life-experience fiction expect from the author? Hopefully, the author has made an informed choice before writing from personal experience, while also confessing not only his or her triumphs but also pain and failures. And finally, a reader should have access to the author and can expect an ongoing and compassionate dialogue regarding the book’s issue.
An informed choice means authors know what to expect of themselves and their readers before writing an issue-based novel. It is important that the authors have had a time of healing and that rather than drawing the sympathies of their readers, they are writing to fulfill God’s purpose.
Before writing Words, I spent ten years focused on my own healing. Another eight years spanned my argument with God and the publication of Words. My agent’s question, “Are you ready?” was insightful and necessary.
Finally, authors must choose how much of their own stories they’re willing to discuss publically. What details are necessary to share, and perhaps more important, what details are better left unsaid? As an abuse survivor, I won’t publically discuss the details of the abuse I suffered, for they have the power to retraumatize other survivors.
Authors are public figures and may be tempted to hide their faults and present the best version of themselves to their readers. However, most of life-experience fiction authors desire a genuine relationship with their readers and are willing to share honestly.
In essence, when authors are transparent with their struggles, they’re saying, “I’ll go first.” They pave the way for others to consider their own struggles and faults and allow God’s transforming work in their lives. When we confess to one another, we also enjoy the opportunity to love as Christ loves, and to offer His grace to others. Through the Internet and social networking sites, authors are available to their readers. The author who writes this type of novel knows readers may want to engage with them and share their own stories.
Many authors include resource or information pages on their Websites, write newsletters or blogs based on the topic of their novel, and may communicate with readers who comment on their blogs or e-mail them directly. Oftentimes, a caring community forms as readers connect not only with the author but also with one another.
Recently, I received an e-mail from a childhood abuse victim who suffered horrors beyond imagination. After reading her e-mail, I prayed about how to answer. What response was appropriate? I’m not a therapist. I don’t have all the answers. I responded with the words that have meant the most to me through the years: “I’m so sorry for all you’ve experienced . . .” The Bible exhorts us to comfort one another with the comfort we have received.
Genre fiction is important because it provides an escape from the stressors of life. That type of fiction saved my life as a child and young adult. I lost myself in the stories I read, and escaped, if only briefly, the abuse I faced. I thought I’d write that type of fiction and provide an escape for others. But God had another idea. He assigned purpose to the pain I suffered by allowing me to share it with others in need.
Whatever the genre, when authors sift through their own pain and share their experiences through the medium of story, they open a door for others who suffer and invite them to receive the redemptive love and mercy of Christ. This is the foundation of life-experience fiction.