THE OTHER PEOPLE IN MY BOOK
I’m often asked whether I worried about the reactions of the people featured in my memoir, What I Thought I Knew.
This was such a personal story, and such a terrifying and confusing family experience, that I couldn’t even talk about for years. Writing it was my way of coming out of the closet of secrecy.
When I finally started writing the book, I had to consciously suppress my worries about how the people in my story would react; otherwise, I would have been too distracted to write. I became rather superstitious about it, deciding that the only way I could write the book was in absolute secrecy. I feared that if I told anyone what I was writing, my writing would grind to a halt. I worked on the book every day for a year without telling a soul about it, not even my husband: Michael knew I was writing a book, but he didn’t know the subject.
When Penguin bought the book, I finally had to address this issue, my approach determined by my relationship to each person in question. With friends and family members, I had one-on-one conversations, in which I read them the sections of the book in which they were represented, and asked whether they’d prefer to be identified by their real name or a fictional name. With one exception, they all asked me to use their real names.
In addition to friends and family, there are a whole lot of doctors in my book, about whom my concerns were legal more than personal. I had sued one of my doctors for medical malpractice—the lawsuit is part of the story—and I sure didn’t want her, or any of the doctors in my book, to sue me. Needless to say, my publisher felt the same way, so they hired a lawyer to advise me on legal issues. On the lawyer’s advice, I fictionalized the names of all the doctors, and in other ways disguised their identities.
Finally, and most importantly, I talked to my young daughter, Elaina, about her role in the book, which is her story as much as mine. She was eight years old when the book was published. She knew the book was about her birth, and she said she wanted to read it before the publication date. With some trepidation, my husband and I said yes. It was a tremendous relief to find that Eliana understood and liked the book, and it was an unexpected pleasure to have her be part of the publication experience—an adventure that has become the next chapter in our family’s journey.