Well, we rather knew that all along, didn't we? But boy, have I got a treat for you today. I emailed Michael Perry, author of Population 485, and asked him two of the questions from last week's Book Menage. And boy, how he answered them! Here were the questions:
Did you ask your whole family to read the "Sarah" chapter before you published? Or, how did you choose such divergent activities as writing and being an EMT? (I said "or" because I didn't want him to feel he had to answer both, if he didn't have time.)
And here is what he emailed back:
"My mother read the 'Sarah' chapter. She corrected some things in it. My brother gave me permission to write about it, but said he didn’t think he could read it. Sometime later (a year or two) he did read it and sent me a kind note. I actually already had a final chapter already written (I don’t work in a straight line) when Sarah’s death occurred. I wrote the new final chapter with my brother’s permission because those events so synthesized what I was trying to convey about the good side of small town/rural life even/especially in the face of tragedy.
Mom is my number one fact-checker. I have removed at least one delightful anecdote after she told me I got it wrong. I really do my best to get the facts right (Truth with a capital “T” is a much more elusive matter). Double-check, confirm in print when possible. Consult with family, other folks. Check old newspapers. But sometimes I flat-out make mistakes. When I discover them, I try to be very open about it. I even have a tag on my blog called 'OOPS!'. If you click on it you’ll find mistakes I’ve acknowledged about the most recent book.
Then there are times when three of us in the immediate family simply remember an anecdote differently. Obviously nobody is 'lying' in the standard sense. So in those cases I usually do my best to synthesize and/or check the stories against each other in an attempt to identify the items that do match up.
Memoir is a much-mangled form. I try to write honestly and from the heart and check the facts. But of course the books are a distillation…what may be missing is any given Tuesday in dirty socks, the standard boring stuff, filling out insurance forms, renewing the license plates, being grumpy and boring for days on end, straightening up the garage, and so on.
As far as the divergent activities of writing and EMT-ing, there was no plan. I became an EMT somewhat on a whim because I wanted to be able to do something if someone fell over. Plus I admit to wondering about what went on inside the fast-moving vehicle with the flashing lights. I became a writer after a lifetime of incidental coincidences beginning when I fell in love with books as a toddler, continuing when a 7th grade teacher let me write a free-verse poem and my first short essay, on through a college creative writing course and gigantic nursing course papers, right up until a friend mentioned she had written a piece for a magazine and sold it and it occurred to me that maybe I could try the same thing, so I went to the library and got a book on freelance writing and now here we are.
As a young freelancer looking for work, it made sense to start writing about what I was already doing. That included being an EMT. So I wrote about that for rescue magazines and non-rescue magazines, and just kept doing both. Nowadays I continue my involvement with EMS because it is a daily reminder that I am not a writer but rather a human and one day I’ll be the one needing help. I find it keeps me utterly grounded to reality and grateful for life itself, whereas writing – for all the delights it has brought and continues to bring – often allows me to remain (quite happily) in the floaty little world I carry between my ears.
So rather than a divergence, I see these two things as an essential knot holding me together."
I don't know about you, but I'm going to steal his "floaty little world I carry between my ears" line. What a guy. What an author. Thanks again for all of your participation in the Menage (and thanks to Michael Perry as well). Now go forth and read all his books! And do please tune in tomorrow for another Book Menage treat!