VICTOR ENNS Re: Writing about people you know

Maurice,  as I’m working on my Abbotsford workshop, one of my questions I want to leave with the participants …is so ok,  you are using people from your life as characters whether truth or fiction, they may be recognized. Like in Detachment. Did Betsy read Detachment before it was published. What did you do about your kids? Would you do anything differently to do it again?

MAURICE MIERAU (author of Detachment)

Yes, Betsy (my wife) saw the manuscript of Detachment and even the proofs. I consulted her mostly to make sure that I got facts straight, and, more sensitively, that I presented her fairly. She did not have final say–I did. But there had been too much tension in our relationship for me to entirely trust myself to be fair to her. 

The question about my children is harder to answer. I talked to them about the fact that they would be in the book, and gave them sections to read. They were about 13 and 15 years old at time of publication (2014). In a literal sense, they consented to having their own lives exposed in the book. But I’m not sure that anyone below at least the age of majority can give meaningful consent. Bohdan was convinced that being in the book made him a rock star, though that failed to transpire. Peter was anxious about people connecting him with the book, but as it turned out the book helped him break the ice with a few other kids from similar (adoptive) backgrounds. The media both locally and nationally picked up on the idea that the justification for telling the kids’ stories was that the book performed an act of service journalism. In other words, people who were thinking of adopting internationally, or already had, could treat the book as a source of advice–or perhaps a cautionary tale (!). That is obvious bullshit, and I found various polite ways to say that in public. I wanted to make literature out of the materials of my life, and I wanted to do that in a raw and unfiltered way. Was that somewhat ego-driven? Yes. Would I do anything differently? No. My kids were not much affected by the book, and much more affected by my own failures as a parent. Weirdly and without any planning on my part, the effects of the book on them were more related to what Google brings up about the media coverage than the book itself. Detachment sold about 1,200 copies, a raving success for a small press book, but of course a tiny audience. If it had become a national bestseller, would these ethical questions be any different? Not really. Living with a writer is dangerous in the sense that everything in a writer’s vicinity is potential fodder. So I foddered away.


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