I am thrilled to welcome Kathryn Craft to Book Reviews & More by Kathy. Her latest release, The Far End of Happy, is a fictionalized novel based on true events from her life and she graciously offered to share a little advice to other writers who are considering writing a novel on true events.
- Play detective. While events are fresh, jot down timelines and any details whose significance strikes you. Review emails, newspapers, planners, photographs, tax records—anything that could jar your memory. Interview others who participated in these events. Then sit a spell and digest all you’ve been through. Think about cause and effect and lessons learned. If you have been through a shock or are actively grieving a loss, this could take years. But only time and distance will allow you to create the context your readers crave, so give your journey, and the way it has indelibly changed you, due consideration. The new perspective this process allows will color every decision you make about your story in a meaningful way.
- Obtain a PhD in “Self.” Developing oneself as a character can be a challenge. We humans are complex emotional beings, and many of us go through our lives unsure of our true motivations for the things we say and do. Yet story is an ordered world—that’s why we love it so—and consistent characterization is a key component. You may find you need to do a lot of journaling to devise your own backstory motivations, identify deep needs and closely held beliefs, and define a story goal. Dig until you uncover all of your unseemly motives and hidden vulnerabilities. This is what your reader wants, and only you can decide if you have the courage to lay them bare on a public page.
- Honor points of view counter to your own. Fictionalizing true events can be healing, and climbing inside the perspectives of other major characters is why. This generous act will balance your story and make it bigger. Make sure these characters—even antagonists—also have relatable motivations and goals.
- Remember: story trumps fact. By fictionalizing, you are devoting yourself to the reader’s experience; your own is simply the springboard. When you receive feedback about a weakness in your story, “because it happened that way” will not work in your defense. Write the best story you can. Invent characters and events that can help push your protagonist along her story arc. Fictional elements will deepen your novel’s impact yet allow your story to feel just as true.
Title: The Far End of Happy by Kathryn Craft
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Ronnie’s husband is supposed to move out today. But when Jeff pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned.
The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage-and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie’s fault, not much else matters now but these moments. Her family’s lives depend on the choices she will make-but is what’s best for her best for everyone?
Based on a real event from the author’s life, The Far End of Happy is a chilling story of one troubled man, the family that loves him, and the suicide standoff that will change all of them forever.
Read my review of this amazing novel HERE.
Ronnie already wanted to rewrite this story. To edit the cop’s words. To distance herself, change “husband” to “the man.” The man now staggering around the property with a gun; the man who may already have taken a shot; the man whose angst was seeping into her own nerves. Her husband—the gentle soul she’d married—would never have acted like the man she’d engaged with earlier today.
“Call him Jeff, please,” she said quietly.
“I’m going to need you to recount all that transpired this morning with your—” He caught himself. “With Jeff. Leave nothing out. You never know what will be important.”
The recitation she gave was devoid of animation. She felt empty and prickly, like an October cornfield in need of nutrients and a long, restorative winter. An evacuation from her home, beneath the cover of a helicopter dispatched from the state capitol, to protect her from her own husband? Ronnie felt as if her family had suddenly been thrust into an unwanted audition for a high-stakes reality show. Every few moments, as she delivered facts, she looked over at her mother, who was speaking quietly to Janet. She wondered if Beverly’s version differed. If her mother, or Jeff’s, blamed her. Because to them, and the rest of the world, it must look as if Jeff had been knocked off balance because Ronnie had decided to leave him.
It even looked that way to her.
The officer told Ronnie their primary goal was to locate Jeff, since he was armed and dangerous.
“Please don’t say that in front of his mother,” she said. “Or the boys. Jeff isn’t a dangerous person. He’s sweet. Everyone would tell you how nice he is. Very laid back.” Too laid back. He never cared enough. “It’s just that we’re getting a divorce, and today was the day he promised to move out. He’s…” Drunk off his ass. “Agitated.”
Ronnie rubbed her arms—the room suddenly chilled her. She hadn’t thought to grab a jacket. The room’s narrow, high-set windows, made of glass bricks, were meant to obscure natural light. This was a room designed to allow sparkles from a mirror ball, gropes in the shadows.
And so what? She was cold. She felt selfish thinking about it, with Jeff frozen all the way to the center of his soul.
“Could you give me a physical description of your husband so we can identify him by sight?”
All that she and Jeff had meant to each other, all the intricacies of their marriage, boiled down to the same physical attributes that had first attracted her to him. “Five foot ten. Dark brown hair, thick, trimmed over ears some might call large.” Soft ears that lay flat against his head beneath her kisses. “Blue eyes.” Eyes that used to pierce her through with their naked honesty. “Broad hands.” Strong hands that always needed a project, now wrapped around a gun.
Kathryn Craft, a former dance critic who wrote for The Morning Call daily newspaper in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for nineteen years. Craft wrote exclusively nonfiction until she was plunged in the kind of real-life drama that demands attention. In 1997, after fifteen years of marriage, her husband committed suicide in a police standoff, leaving her and their two young sons.
The Far End of Happy was born from Craft’s need to make sense of what her husband had done. Kathryn has been a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene for more than a decade and is also the author of The Art of Falling. She lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.