Monkeying Around With The Truth

My book, Since Before You Were Born, is based on stories of my childhood. For the record, I was a good kid. Respectful. God-fearing. Sensitive to the needs of others. Just ask anyone. (Well, except for my parents. They might have a different point of view. Oh, and my sisters. They sure argued with me a lot. And definitely don’t ask my brother …)

Okay, it’s tricky writing stories about your family. That’s because truth is subjective. (That’s probably going to be my defense if they sue me.) Everyone sees the world through the lens of their own experiences, thoughts, feelings, and relationships. Put five people on a street corner to witness a crash, and you’ll get five different stories about what happened. Nobody’s right or wrong. They’re all telling the truth as they saw it. They just each saw it through a different lens, so each of them will have a different and legitimate truth about the crash.

Writing about your family is a lot like that. (Man, this approach might be legal gold if I get sued. Did I mention that my brother is a lawyer?) I remember stories one way, and someone else in the family – sometimes, everyone else in the family – might remember them differently. I worked hard to keep that in mind while I wrote the book. But at the end of the day, it’s still my book, and I’m telling stories in the way that fits what I’m trying to do. I wanted to write a funny book about growing up that occasionally might veer off into being poignant. Sometimes, that means exaggeration, and sometimes that means just making stuff up because it fits the story well. All writers mine their own families and friends for material, but all writers also tell a different story than those loved ones might tell. As Stephen King says, writers lie for a living. The key is to find the truth within those lies.

But I still don’t want my family and childhood friends to be angry or embarrassed by the stories in the book. (Trust me, I probably look worse than anybody else.) So when the book was finished, I gave it to my daughter to read. She’d see it through a fresh lens. She’d tell me the truth. She’d give me specifics where needed.

I was most worried that my mother might look bad because I was, um, never a fan of her cooking when I was growing up. (Picture canned spinach plopped on a plate.) So I asked my daughter, “Do you think Grandma’s going to be mad when she reads the book?”

“Naw,” my daughter said. “Grandma comes out looking pretty good. She seems to be the sane one in the family.”

“Good,” I said. “I hoped it read that way.”

“But …” she added.

Damn. There’s always a “but.”

“But,” she continued, “you probably shouldn’t let Uncle Warren read it.”

Oh-oh. (I may have mentioned that my brother is a lawyer.)

“Why not?” I asked, expecting a long, specific list that would take weeks to correct.

She shrugged. “You sure made him mad a lot.”

Well, that’s a view that anyone in my family would find reasonable.

I’ve thought about it a lot since then, and I’ve decided to leave the book as it is. It’s an honest (although exaggerated in an incredibly fictional way, for my legally inclined readers) portrayal of what I was like as a kid, and how I maybe, sometimes, every once in awhile, really not often enough to mention now that I think about it, might’ve annoyed my brother. From time to time, that is. Hardly worth talking about.

Besides, my brother’s been supportive of the idea of the book. In fact, he shared my last blog with his friends and colleagues on Facebook to let them all know the book would be coming out soon. There were a lot of positive responses, including one of his co-workers suggesting they should pick my book for one of their monthly Book Club meetings. That’s exciting when you first think about it. But again, my brother works at a law firm … with oodles of other lawyers … all of which are proficient in filing legal briefs …

So just in case, there’s something I’d like to say.

Hey, Bro. Really sorry for hitting you with that monkey.

(C.W. Grody’s latest book, “Since Before You Were Born,” is available here:  He’s the author of 13 published books and hundreds of articles for national magazines.)


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