During my early days at the University of Tennessee, I considered majoring in English with an emphasis on creative writing. I was not planning to teach English, so that would have basically meant seriously overpaying for writing classes. Nonetheless, I found myself in a class called Writing Fiction. (Saying that someone found themselves somewhere or doing something was my professor's pet peeve.)
For one of the assignments, I wrote a fictionalized account of a day from my childhood. The day Nita Jean (my mother's mother) and Dwayne (her current husband) had visited our apartment in 1998. Nightmares caused by Dwayne's abuse haunted me, but I had not yet admitted to myself that anything untoward had happened. At the time of the assignment, almost a decade later, I had only recently begun to open up about what he had done to me. Writing about my experiences has always helped me to process my thoughts and feelings. It seemed natural to choose that rather charged day as the backdrop of a story.
When I received my rough draft back, it came with a note to see the professor after class. What he had to say made me quite angry, at least at first.
"It isn't believable that both the boy's father and grandfather sexually abused him."
I explained that, although this was indeed a class on writing fiction, many parts of this story were true. His complaint was about one such part. To be honest, I don't think I responded with much tact or grace. The professor explained that many things that happen in the course of someone's life seem unbelievable in the context of a piece of fiction.
He summarized his explanation by saying, "God gets away with a lot that an author cannot."
In the last few days, his explanation popped back into my head and has stuck with me. There are many strange connections and coincidences in my story; if my life was told in a series of books, the readership would have fallen off long ago. It would make terrible fiction because it would strain belief too much.
But it's real, and I've lived it. The book I'm currently in — My Life as a Medical Enigma — feels overly long, but I trust that the author and finisher of my story knows what he's doing. He hasn't let me down yet.