Wednesday, June 29, 2016

A family grows up with Autism. Liane Kupferberg Carter talks about KETCHUP IS MY FAVORITE VEGETABLE, writing, telling the truth, and so much more.

I was sitting in the crowded Jewish Book Council room when I saw another woman sitting alone, and I got up and introduced myself. We were soon talking like old friends, and by the time we all had to file into the auditorium, Liane Kupferberg Carter had agreed to come on my blog! I'm delighted. Her book Ketchup is my Favorite Vegetable is about one family's journey with an autistic child, the challenges, the difficulties, and the deep satisfactions.. Thank you so much, Liane.

 What surprised you during the writing? What did you learn?

I learned that you cannot predict who you might offend -- or what will offend them!
For me, writing pins the chaos to the page. It gives order to my world. But writing memoir isn’t therapy. You don’t write memoir in order to get even or settle scores. You aren’t the victim of your story, nor are you the heroine.

Can you talk about the difference between writing memoir and fiction?

With memoir, as opposed to fiction, you are more bound by the “truth” – well, “a” truth, anyway. But it’s my truth, not necessarily anyone else’s.

The incomparable Dani Shapiro has said, “The memoirist looks through a single window in a house full of windows. After all, we can’t look out of all the windows at once, can we? We choose a view. We pick a story to tell. We shift through the ever-changing sands of memory, and in so doing create something hopefully beautiful, by which I mean universal.”

When you write memoir, you still use the techniques of fiction. The facts of my story provided the scaffolding for the book. But when it came to the writing, it was still all about voice, scene, dialogue, characters, pacing, and finding the narrative arc. When readers tell me the book reads like fiction, I take it as a compliment.

What's obsessing you now and why?

Besides the 2016 election and climate change?

I’m obsessed with the question, how do I create a meaningful life for my son for the next 60 years? I hold the same hopes for Mickey as I do for my older son Jonathan – the same ones all parents have: to have loving friends, good health, work that is meaningful, and to live the most satisfying, independent lives they can. The worry never ends. Who will take care of Mickey? Where will he live? Who will love him when we are gone?

I’m also obsessed with what to write next. I’ve been writing a lot of essays lately, so I’m thinking about shaping them into a book. I’m trying to figure out the through line, and how to create the connective tissue that will hold them together. 

What question didn't I ask that I should have?

Hmm. How about, what are your boundaries when you write about your children?
I was clear from the get-go that I wouldn’t write anything that might embarrass or blame anyone in the family. I didn’t want to jeopardize my relationships with my kids. Again and again I checked in with myself: what were my motives in telling a particular incident? How would I have felt at the age of 15, reading something like that about myself? If the thought made me squirm, the details or scene didn’t belong. It was OK to out myself, but my kids were off limits.

I see Anne Lamott’s quote cited everywhere -- “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”
I think that’s a bit glib. Yes, you own what happened to you. But my kids didn’t ask for a mom who’s a writer.


Unknown said...

Sounds like a wonderful book. Honest and true. Thanks for letting us know about it.

Walker said...

Liane, thank you for sharing your story--love the quotes and thoughts about memoir!

Paula Kiger said...