Write Like They’re Dead


By Cornelia Read

So, my mother is really pissed at me this week. I kind of don’t care, which has made my sister and my uncle and all my mom’s friends also pissed at me. On the other hand, my friends, my dad, and my sister’s carpenter think everyone pissed at me should get the hell over themselves already. Which is nice. (My niece just says, “With family like this, who needs television?”)

The basic issue is the way I portrayed Mom in my forthcoming novel, Invisible Boy. I told her a year ago that she wasn’t going to like it, since I was dealing with her most execrable choice in our long line of stepfathers, the one who molested my little sister (that part described with my sister’s permission, for which I’m very grateful.) Not to mention Mom’s refusal to stop hanging out with the guy socially even after my sister finally got up the courage to tell her what had happened, some ten years later (or, you know, apologize for having made us live with a shithead sexual-predator fucktard for five years.)

My general attitude at this point is half “The Truth Shall Set You Free” and half “Payback’s a bitch, bitch”—with a smidge of Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense in there somewhere, too.

Anyway, God help anyone whose children write hugely autobiographical novels. I’d be grateful if mine become investment bankers, you know?

The manuscript’s on its way to the copy editors, I’ve said my piece, and Mom’s welcome to write her own book. I just wish her seventieth birthday party and my little brother’s graduation from the California Maritime Academy weren’t this weekend. O joy, o rapture.

I have no doubt that the crap parts of my childhood are what made me a writer—gave me the urge to forge the uncreated conscience of my race in the smithy of my soul and all that. Something about having been denied a voice in the midst of a bunch of evil bullshit grownups as a kid made me want to goddamn own the narrative when I grew up. I know I’m very fucking lucky it turned out this way, in the end, though it’s a little weird to have my mojo prevail in such a profundity of spades, too.

That being said, it would be nice if the critics actually like the thing, not to mention the people who will be generous enough to buy a copy next March. It would suck to be disowned over a shitty book, you know?

On the bright side, I’m on a plane to New York right now, leaving the whole mess 3000 miles away for a good forty-eight hours. Also, I’m watching the Oxford eight row against Cambridge on my Jetblue TV, and all the boys are so pretty.

How about you, ‘Ratis? Ever piss anyone off with your writing? Ever want to?

20 thoughts on “Write Like They’re Dead

  1. Louise Ure

    Who knew there were so many great "MOM" tattoos out there?

    I’ve pissed a lot of people off with my writing, but so far only on occasions when they mistakenly took umbrage and identified with a character that had nothing to do with them.

    It was lovely spending some time with you in NYC, my dear.

  2. Skeptic

    I nearly snorted orange juice out of my nose when I read this – not only because did something I wrote piss my mother off to the point of her saying, "You’re a horrible writer!" and in the next breath, "You’re wasting your talent!" but also because what pissed her off equally was my obsession with tattoos. 😉 Apparently, both of my God-fearing parents believe that tattoos are a sign of witchcraft. So I’m not only the evil daughter who wrote something they deemed "blasphemy", but I also defiled my temple with tattoos.

    So yes, I have pissed people off with what I’ve written – on pages and skin. Do I mind? Not so much in my old age. Although barbs from the motherly types are hurtful.

  3. Chris Hamilton

    You gotta write what you gotta write, you know? Pithy. Cliched. But there it is.

    And how many people who’ve gone through a similar situation–far too many–will find solace and some sense of solidarity and maybe even healing in what you wrote?

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Ms. C, I really do worship you. THANK YOU and your sister for breaking the silence. That kind of evil needs to have the light of great writing shining on it, every chance we get.

    I have no doubt the INVISIBLE BOY will be a classic – I can’t wait to read it.

    And personally I hope to piss a lot of people off in my long career.

  5. Gayle Carline

    I write a weekly humor column for my local newspaper, describing some slice of my life (http://www.gaylecarline.com/pnt_cols.html). Mostly, it’s about me, but my husband and son are frequently guest stars. Do I ever piss them off? My hubby threatens to write a rebuttal (insert crickets chirping, waiting), and my son was only mad the day I referred to him as Slug Boy. I guess it was not the heroic personae he had in mind.

    Honestly, I’m not mean. I’m just truthful, in the most exaggerated way.


  6. Susan Shay

    I’ve shocked several people with what I write, but I haven’t pissed anyone off. Yet. <g>
    Funny tat story: My son got a tatto on his shoulder that said China (his wife’s name) in Chinese. Naturally I wasn’t thrilled.
    "It’s all right, Mom. If anything happens to our marriage, I can always tell people it says mom."


  7. Cornelia Read

    You guys are wonderful. And I’m loving the "Mom" tattoo story, Susan.

    Chris and Alex, the sharing for those who’ve been through this kind of stuff thing is why my sister gave me her permission to write about all this. We got through much of it because we had each other when the shit was really bad.

    Dusty, you’re pissing off ALL the right people, good on you!

    Louise, it was so great to see you in NY. You looked gorgeous, as always.

    Brett… EXACTLY.

    Skeptic, beautiful about the tattoo writing. You’re my hero.

    Gayle, I’m loving "slug boy." Awesome.

  8. Allison Brennan

    I’m sure I pissed off people when I was writing in the Legislature, but you can only please half the people anyway, so I don’t mind. For my books, I get people ticked about language and/or sex and/or violence, and the guy who said I needed to be in an insane asylum because I had even thought up such violent things and publish them. My BIL liked it when I modeled a serial killer after him (based on his old job tracking peregrine falcons in Colorado) (just his job–not the actual character) and so I’m modeling another secondary character after my BIL and naming him Kevin, too, and the scene I wrote about really happened, but not because an anarchist cell released avian flu-infected ducks into the wild.

    I have pissed off my husband sometimes when I send him emails explaining why something he did/said/thought ticked me off, because he doesn’t pay attention when I’m actually telling him in person, otherwise he wouldn’t continue to do the offending behavior, right?

  9. Steve Steinbock

    Thanks for the lovely rant, Cornelia. Speaking of lovely, those boots you wore at the Edgars were HOT! And you didn’t trip while presenting the award for Best YA Novel. (I’m not sure the same can be said for Skye Moody, though).

  10. Catherine Shipton

    I’m still working with pissing some people off just by being…although the possibility of being able to piss off more people, more often in print by sharing my particular point of view, is the best motivation I have seen for ever wanting to write and be published.

    I hope this book adds another layer of healing for you and yours Cornelia.

  11. Catherine Shipton

    The above post is by product of the nerve that got tapped ala little sister pain and a stunningly adept blind eye mother. In this case my biological sister and mother. Through fate/adoption policies of the 1960’s I managed to escape the particular hell my little sister experienced growing up. If I was ever able to write in a way that shone a very bright laser hot light onto this, and helped someone understand something that they had not before, well that would be my true motivation for writing. Pissing people off would be the bonus.

  12. Cornelia Read

    Steve, so glad you liked the boots–thank you!

    Allison, I’m totally loving your BIL.

    Catherine, thank you.

  13. Sylvia

    What a great subject. My husband is sure I’m going to kill him in a book and at some point I just might!

    Since both my parents are dead along with all the aunts and uncles who helped "hide" the secrets I suppose it gives me free reign to write with wreckless and creative abandon. Sad thing is… my family life and history was so f’d no one would believe it anyway!

    I’m stuck painting interior trim this weekend so rather than read I’m listening to my newest audiobook download – A Field of Darkness. Yay!

  14. Fran

    Isn’t the full quote "The truth will set you free, but first it’s gonna piss you off"? It’s never too late for anyone, including mothers, to apologize for doing dumb things.

    Except me, of course. As Mom, I haven’t done ANYTHING to have to apologize for. So far today. But it’s only 8:30. . .

    I absolutely cannot wait to read Invisible Boy, Cornelia, and it won’t be a shitty book, I’m absolutely positive! Good for you!

  15. Cornelia Read

    Sylvia, I think the strangest thing about writing what I write is that reviewers never believe the TRUE stuff, you know? Nazi gardeners, etc.

    Fran, you are the best.

  16. Jake Nantz

    Ms. Read,
    As far as your question…well…I’m not sure yet. I just had my first story actually come out (waiting on two others), but it was in Pulp Pusher. And it was perfect for their readership, if you get my meaning. I emailed my dad the link and said, "hey, here it is, see what you think before you tell anybody else." ‘Cause y’know, he’ll know who is a little too sensitive and might say, "My grandson/nephew/cousin/step-son wrote THAT?!?!?"

    But I figured at least he’d be okay with it. Except that was Tuesday, and I haven’t heard from him.

    Not a peep.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *