Little Wrecks author, Meredith Miller, used her experiences as inspiration for her new novel. In this real talk piece, you’ll find out how she used her pain for art and became the resilient inspiring lady she is today! Read on for her incredible story.
This blog post is part of our on-going Real Talk blog series where we ask authors to get real about some of the most controversial and important topics of today.
Girls Are Real And So Is Fiction
By Meredith Miller
The first time I was raped I was thirteen. The second time I was fourteen. I wasn’t a virgin the first time anyway. The first time I had sex was because one of my older sisters sort of gave me to her boyfriend’s brother for brownie points. I hadn’t yet had my first period. Please don’t be mad at my sister. She was a victim, too. There was lots of other weird toxic violence in our lives, and a whole shed load of drugs.
Then there was the other thing about my life growing up. There was poetry and the ocean and endless, endless nighttimes full of warm air and sharp stars. There was the pond in the woods where we dove down naked into a freezing spring. There was driving back and forth across America. I once came over the Great Divide at dawn on a late November morning. It was -11 degrees when we gave up on sleeping and got on the road. The sun came up over the spine of the continent and we drove, edgy and wild-eyed, right into the rays of gold stabbing up from the shadow of the mountains into the sky. Whatever else I got out of growing up, I got something so much more beautiful than average.
Turn your pain into art. That’s one of those things people say. But I found out early on that you can’t make a book too close to home. If your characters are simply you in disguise they have no texture somehow. And if you don’t have any distance, you can’t carve out something that works as a novel. I guess misery memoirs are fine, but I’m not particularly miserable and I don’t want to write one. There’s enough victimization kicking around anyway.
The difference between fiction and reality isn’t the difference between falsehood and truth. Fiction can take you inside people’s heads and inside history at the same time. It can move back and forth between the world and how your characters see that world. It can create enough space between your readers and reality so that they can get in there and use their imagination to participate, think. React. That can be more real than hearing a “true story” about someone’s life. It is certainly more immediate. What I told you in paragraph one keeps you at a safe distance from that experience because it’s true and truly mine. Not yours. If I pull you into a character and you experience that with her, that’s a whole other way of getting real.
When people read Little Wrecks, lots of them use that word to describe it. Real. “It’s so real.” Like students and professors in university classrooms, people talk about the “real world,” “real experience,” “real women.” As if they themselves, and the nice safe rooms in which they are privileged to do that talking, are not also real. As if that privilege itself is not part of the “real world.” This separation is a problem with feminism, but I think we’ll get there. We like to ask hard questions of ourselves and each other and that is good.
So you make some characters and a made-up story but you keep it real. You try not to flinch or compromise. You do something with your experience of pain and violation and a bunch of people respond like it’s some kind of spicy candy the world is going to just love. Because it’s so real. Then you enter a long process of making that story into a finished book. Part of that process is making the book better and better, shaping it and taking away all the dull parts and the stuff that’s in the way of what’s arresting and beautiful. I can’t begin to tell you how great it is to have someone helping you do that. The other part, though, is filing down the sharpest edges. I don’t like it when people file down my sharp edges. If I’d grown up in the nineties I’m pretty sure I would have filed my canines into points.
For me and Little Wrecks, the hardest part was making the characters older. There was a genuinely good reason for this. My editor loves my book, and cares about every word. In our very first conversation she said to me, “I don’t want anything to get in the way of your content.” In other words, if people are afraid of it we might lose some things. So let’s make the characters older in order to preserve what you’re doing. This was hard for me and I was a pain about it. I wasn’t writing a book for people who don’t want to deal with the fact that girls get raped at thirteen or fourteen. I don’t actually give a shit about those people. But I was writing a book because I wanted to communicate something, and to do that you have to get to the shelf. Which was my editor’s point.
I live in England now, but it’s nothing like in The Holiday or Pride and Prejudice with Zombies. (Sorry.) My neighborhood is built around a dockyard full of nuclear submarines. Kids hang out in the little dog-walking park, in the bus shelter and on the sidewalk in front of the shops. Ever since I got the contract for Little Wrecks, when I pass those kids I feel a pressure in my chest. My throat closes up and I can feel the tears rising. I made a book for you, I think. I almost want to stop and say it, to hand out copies, because these are the people I’m talking to. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess some of them don’t get to decide how old they are when they have their first sexual experience. Because let’s face it, that hasn’t really changed. We are not all safe from every painful experience, even if some of us are. “Seventeen is still really young,’” someone said to me at one point. I did not reply, “Not if you get raped twice before you’re fifteen, it isn’t.” Because you don’t say that stuff, do you?
At one point, I laid all this out for a friend. I said, “Twelve-year-old girls are being trafficked into this country as we speak. They are getting raped. Why can’t I write a book for them?” She said, “But are those your readers?” Sometimes I feel like a hostile stranger in my own life.
Are those my readers? My answer to that question is, yes. “They” are my readers. They are who I write for, whether they read my books or not. Because they are who I am.
Up Next: Real Talk– Black Lives Matter