Monday, October 19, 2009

real life versus fiction

When I first had the idea for this book, I didn't realize how difficult it would be to use an historical figure as a major character. It sounded great, hey, what about a book with Amelia Earhart in it. There had already been a best seller, though it had nothing to do with my concept. I was writing a novel that, like The Hours, had threaded narratives. Amelia's childhood was one. Sam's life in New York in 1980 was another. Out of nowhere, this middle aged Navy wife Alma appeared. Then I discovered Muriel, Amelia's sister who was alive in 1980. I decided to write from her point of view instead of Amelia's.

I was unsure how to write about a real person who was really only famous because of her sister. I worried over this. How could I do her justice? Was it fair? Yes, she'd put herself in the public domain by writing about her sister and publishing a book, but still . . .I thought a lot about aging, and about my own parents, particularly my mother. I thought about how it felt being the survivor. In the end, I decided I needed both sister's points of view. I needed Amelia alive.

Of course everyone has their particular version of Amelia Earhart. Intrepid explorer. Feminist. Sexually indeterminate icon. I needed to be sure she was mine. The bond between sisters is decidedly complicated, and these two were careful writers, yet I found a subtext. Amelia's insistence on making a grand entrance to Muriel's rehearsal dinner, flying up in stormy weather, then having to cancel, everyone worrying about her instead of celebrating her sister's big moment. It seemed at best thoughtless, at worst, selfish, why was the grand entrance so important? There were other stories where these sisters had a different take. Of course eyewitness accounts are generally unreliable and often differ. That's what makes them intriguing. With this as my jumping off point, I began to write . . .

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