Thursday, July 10, 2014

Ellen Sussman writes about A Wedding in Provence, truth in fiction, and so much more

I'm so thrilled to have Ellen Sussman here!  Ellen is the author of four national bestselling novels: A Wedding in Provence, The Paradise Guest House, French Lessons and On a Night Like This.  All four books have been translated into many languages and French Lessons has been optioned by Unique Features to be made into a movie. Ellen is also the editor of two critically acclaimed anthologies, Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia Of Sex and Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave. She was named a San Francisco Library Laureate in 2004 and in 2009. Ellen has been awarded fellowships from The Sewanee Writers Conference, The Napoule Art Foundation, Hedgebrook, Brush Creek, Ledig House, Ucross, Ragdale Foundation, Writers at Work, Wesleyan Writers Conference and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She has taught at Pepperdine, UCLA and Rutgers University. Ellen now teaches through Stanford Continuing Studies and in private classes out of her home. She has two daughters and lives with her husband in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Thank you so much, Ellen!

True or False
By Ellen Sussman

Truth: I was married in France.
Fiction: Olivia and Brody head to France to get married.
Truth: I have two daughters, now 26 and 28
Fiction: Olivia has two daughters, 26 and 28
Truth: I found love the second time around.
Fiction: Olivia found love the second time around.

And yet here’s one more truth: A Wedding in Provence, my new novel, is not autobiographical! Not even close. Nothing that happens in the novel happened in my life. And yet…

There is a lot of truth in my fiction.

I wanted to write a novel about finding love later in life. It seems a bit crazy to commit to marriage in your forties or fifties or sixties – by then you’ve learned so much about how marriages don’t work. I had been thinking about this a lot because I had done it myself. I fell madly in love with a guy and took that wild leap of faith. Love is complicated; love is messy and rich and fulfilling and infuriating. Love is a really good topic for a novel.

And I wanted to write about raising twenty-something daughters. They’re independent but they’re not. They’re easier but they’re not. They’re looking for love, careers, and a better relationship with each other. Great stuff for novel material.

But I didn’t write my own personal story. I invented characters that would fall into the complicated world of A Wedding in Provence. As a writer, I had a chance to grapple with all those conflicts while telling the story of someone else’s life. I’m not Olivia, my husband isn’t Brody and my daughters are nothing like Nell and Carly. (They even agree with me!) But my fictional characters and the fictional plot is infused with all of my musings about love and family.

I’ve written both fiction and memoir. These days I’m much more comfortable with fiction. And oddly I find that I can tell the truth more in fiction. Maybe it’s because I’m hiding behind my characters and an invented storyline. It’s safer than talking about my life. And I’m willing to dig deeper, to expose more.

It’s fiction. And it’s absolutely true.

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