I am not Tess Dyer


I know it’s not uncommon for a first novel to be at least semi-autobiographical, and judging by the sympathetic tone of some of the emails I’ve been getting lately, it seems that a lot of you think that’s the case with Waiting For Spring. Thankfully, I can say that it isn’t. Tess and I share some similarities: eye color, short stature, a tendency towards being a smart ass. We’re both avid Red Sox fans and both live in Small Town, Maine. I used my own ‘voice’–so to speak–for the narration. (Tackling the task of writing a first novel was much less daunting that way.) But the actual events of her life were in no way taken from mine*.

I sat down to write WFS over two-and-a-half-years ago with absolutely no plot in mind. I had no specific axes to grind, no confessions to make, no burdens with anyone’s name stamped in big, block letters to set down. Just thirty-five-and-a-half years of being a human being to sort through and a certainty that I had the talent to make something out of it.

I had been abandoned by someone who should have stayed around, then given the Someone who took his place a ration and a half of shit. Groaned about the minor imperfections of my mother*, only to count my blessings when confronted with the gross imperfections of the mothers of some of my friends. I had loved and lost, then loved again. Shed tears with friends as they struggled with the heartbreak that comes when a mate has been unfaithful, and later thanked God out loud that it wasn’t me. Watched other friends who were too young being buried in the cold, hard ground.

I had known what it was like to wonder where my next meal was coming from when my husband lost his job, making due for weeks with mac & cheese and tunafish, grateful that there was such a thing as government aid to help us through the roughest spots; then grumbled as I watched people who’d never worked a day in their lives buying lobster with their food stamps. I had trusted people who didn’t deserve it, and turned my back on people who did. I found out what it’s like to not tell someone “I love you” in time, then vow to never make that mistake again; knowing full well that I probably will. I found out, too, that forgiveness works both ways.

There was a summer when it seemed everyone I knew who wasn’t in rehab should’ve been. An autumn when my brother was so sick that I prayed for God to take him away, to end his suffering; only to watch him walk out of the hospital a week later. Moments when I looked at the ungrateful faces of the children I’d fought Nature to conceive and wondered why the hell I’d bothered; only to be followed by moments I couldn’t remember what life had been like before it had been blessed with their laughter. Dark times–even the happiest couples have them–when I had imagined what life would be like if I was on my own, single and carefree again; only to have those empty images blow away like ash when I heard the sound of my name in his voice…

So, no, I am not Tess Dyer. At least, not really. Or, if I am, maybe you are, too.

*I feel especially compelled, now that Chapter 38 of WFS (aka the chapter in which Tess makes her Confession From Hell) has been posted at Readers and Writers Blog, to reiterate that Tess’ mother is in no way based on mine. (Yes, she has recently confided in me her fear that people will think this.) So once again…My mother is not an insane, selfish psycho bitch. She is an amazing, supportive, if slightly off-center, mother who gave up a lot in raising my brothers and me, and set the ultimate example of what it means to be a Mom.

In addition, Chapter 39 of WFS and chapters 14 and 15 of Ann M. Pino’s Steal Tomorrow have been posted in the New Works at R&WBlog. (If you haven’t read any of Steal Tomorrow yet, do yourself a favor and get on it. It’s that good.)

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About R.J. Keller

R. J. Keller is the author of Waiting For Spring. An avid independent movie enthusiast, she was Managing Editor of The Movie Fanatic website and created episodes of the writer-centric YouTube series, Inside The Writers' Studio, with author Kristen Tsetsi. She co-hosted Book Chatter with Stacey Cochran from 2011-2014. She lives in Central Maine with her family, where she enjoys gardening, collecting geeky memorabilia, and watching other people cook. View all posts by R.J. Keller

6 responses to “I am not Tess Dyer

  • bunnygirl

    I hear you, friend. One of the reasons I don’t share my writing with my immediate family is because I’m afraid they’ll read too much into it, looking for Mary Sues and all that. I went down that road years ago with the boyfriends of my 20s and it’s enough to make a person want to lock every single thing they ever wrote in a drawer, not to be opened for at least two centuries!

  • bunnygirl

    I just wanted to say that I could really relate to the way WFS ended, having had an experience like that myself. One day you realize that your whole life up to that point has been limbo and today is the day it will end. Some people reach that turning point and commit suicide. Some of us choose to live–really live. But you can’t have that revelatory experience and not take action one way or the other. You can’t keep on in limbo.

  • Zoe Winters

    I think ALL novels are a TINY bit auto-biographical because they can only come out of the author’s brain. I don’t understand this obsession with not being naked, even in fiction.

    Yes, it should not be a play by play of your life. Characters should have a life of their own outside the author, but all fiction IMO is somewhat self indulgent. And I think we only act like it isn’t because of some shame we’ve been conditioned into that being honest about anything about ourselves is necessarily “bad.”

    pfffft.

    Most of the novels that truly spoke to me I know had a deeply personal connection with the author. If it doesn’t come out of your heart you’re just writing literary fanfic.

  • Zoe Winters

    Also sometimes a book is highly autobiographical for a reason. as in, when someone can’t safely write a memoir, they disguise it in fiction. If a memoir is a perfectly acceptable literary form, why not a fictionalized memoir. It’s all stories. What difference does it make?

    When the question becomes: “Is it autobiographical” we’re asking the wrong question. the REAL question is…is it a good book.

  • R.J. Keller

    Hi BG, thanks so much! I’m SO glad it resonated with you.

    Hey there, Z… 🙂
    I guess my point of my post was that WFS isn’t autobiographical fact-wise, but it is emotionally autobiographical. You have to expose yourself if you want to write something that touches people. If not, then why bother?

  • Zoe Winters

    Good point about emotionally autobiographical rather than factually autobiographical.

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