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August 4, 2010


Posted by Dana

In today's guest post, Amy Bourret, author of MOTHERS AND OTHER LIARS talks about writing from the perspective of someone who is not you.  Is it valid?  Is it okay to do so?  Of course it is.  I say that from the perspective of a 70 year old retired steel worker living in a senior center in Florida.  But seriously - I'm with you Amy!  If the book is well written and makes you think what difference does it make that the writer has had a different life experience?  Some of the most amazing books of our time have been written by people from a completely different background, sex, or race than their protagonist.  Think of it like acting.  Of course we don't expect an actor to actually have lived through WWII in order to portray the feelings of a character living in that time. Let's give writers the same leeway.  'Nuff said.  Read on for a great book club suggestion from Amy as well!

mothers.jpgI am neither a mother nor a liar. And at least half of that statement is true.

Joking aside, it’s funny, how often I get asked about how I, without having children, can write from the perspective of a mother. I had the opportunity to talk with Kathyrn Stockett about this recently – she, as I’m sure you know, has taken some heat for having the “audacity” to write from the perspective of a black woman in her novel, THE HELP.

One of the axioms writers hear over and over (I like to call them “waxioms”) is to write what you know.  But surely you can “know” someone without being them. Since the first piece of charcoal was put to a papyrus leaf, authors have written from the perspective of different occupations, generations, regions, sexes and sensibilities. That is the fun of writing, letting someone who is not you creep into your head, speak to you, even embody your soul, without making you feel as if you need psychiatric treatment or the exorcism services of a priest.
So what makes race such a lightning rod? And motherhood.

I get it that motherhood changes a person in profound ways. I hear all the time that you can never truly comprehend love until you hold your child in your arms. And I’ll admit that sometimes my arms ache with their emptiness.

My protagonist, Ruby, faces some horrific crossroads as a mother. Some readers have told me that no mother would ever make the choices Ruby makes. Others tell me that they wouldn’t make certain choices but they could understand how Ruby would. One asked me how I thought I would have written the story differently if I were an actual mother. That last one has two answers. First, it’s like asking a twin what it is like to be a twin – she’s never not been a twin to compare the experience. And second, I don’t feel like I made the choices. I was as surprised as the reader at some of the places Ruby took me, and I didn’t know what choices she would make until she made them. That, too, is part of the fun of writing.
You can disagree vehemently with Ruby’s choices, just as you rail that you would never take the actions that some real live people take. If I have done my job as an author, though, you will believe that Ruby could have made those choices.
I hope that Ruby’s story will provide interesting fodder for your book club. Talk about whether you understand her choices. Share with each other what choices you would have made if you were Ruby. Drink some wine, maybe even meet at a nail salon and discuss the book while having pedicures, in homage to Ruby’s profession. 

After living with Ruby for all this time, I still don’t know what choices I would make if I were in her shoes, and I think that would be true whether or not I am a mother myself. I will gladly be a lightning rod if that means you want to talk about my book, if it means the story is sticking with you. Being a guest in your heads is a true privilege, and may be the most author fun of all.

-- Amy Bourret, Author

Ps: I LOVE book clubs and would be delighted to join yours if I can. Go to my website at if you are interested in an author visit.