The hardest "Mother, May I?" question I wrestle with as an author is not asking mother, father, sister, husband, children if I may write at all, but whether and how I am allowed to write about them.
I write realistic fiction. I draw on my own childhood memories. I draw on my parenting experiences. How could I get those details that ring so true, those "you just can't make this stuff up?" moments, if I didn't borrow lavishly from real life? But in writing about my own real life, I inevitably write about the real lives of those whose lives are inextricably intertwined with mine. I can't write about me without writing about them. And don't they have some legitimate claim not to have their fears, foibles, and failures shared with readers? But if I don't write about the darker side of being human, how am I going to produce books anybody is going to want to read?
These are questions I struggle with every single writing day.
I don't have easy answers here, in case you were hoping to get some at last. But here are two guidelines I give myself.
I do disguise real life heavily; I almost never write anything "exactly the way it happened," if this were even possible. I do this not only for the sake of the human beings who provide my inspiration for a given scene, but to bring out the scene's narrative possibilities more fully: to make the story better and funnier than real life - and definitely with a more satisfying ending. I'm wary of any author who defends the improbable features of her story by protesting, "But that's how it really did happen."
I do try to be kind toward all my characters. I try to see "where they are coming from," to write about them in a way that is both "microscopically truthful," to quote Brenda Ueland, and as wise and charitable as I can be. I really do believe that if God were to write a book about any of us - and authors do assume a godlike stance toward their characters - we would end up as sympathetic and "relatable" characters, seen through God's loving eyes.
Luckily for me, I haven't been tempted to write a memoir yet, where I'd have to run afoul of my first guideline. I'm trying hard to honor the second one - though I just violated it in a current work-in-progress, giving such an unflattering portrait of my protagonist's father (actually, NOT based on anyone I know) that my editor rightly sent it back for a total re-do. And guess what the book is about? It's about a seventh grade writer who is wrestling with the question of whether and to what degree she can write about - and seek publication for - a story about her own family.
Maybe when twelve-year-old Autumn Granger figures this out in Write This Down, I'll know the answers, too.