Guest Post: Every Moment After by Joseph Moldover
Every Moment After by Joseph Moldover releases today and we are pleased to have Joseph on the blog today talking about his experience of writing fiction about someone else’s real life tragedy. Check out his thoughts below and add Every Moment After to your TBR. I can’t wait for my copy to arrive. Thank you, Joe, for being vulnerable and sharing and to Sarah at The YA Book Traveler for introducing us!
Writing About Somebody Else’s Tragedy
by Joseph Moldover – April 2019
When my debut novel, Every Moment After, is published next week I’ll have all the feelings you would expect a writer in my situation to have: excitement that my work is finally out in the world, nervousness about appearing publicly, and hope that people will actually read it. It’s a huge moment for any author.
I’ll also be experiencing something else, though. My novel is about the distant aftermath of a school shooting. It joins the survivors eleven years later, on the day of their high school graduation, and follows them through the summer as they try to move beyond the shadows of a tragedy we are all too familiar with. Every Moment After is about the fictionalized experience of something that has happened to real people, as imagined by a writer they have never met.
It’s a strange feeling to write about someone else’s tragedy. It can feel overwhelming, uncomfortable, and intrusive. Novelist Richard Russo tells a story about being approached by a reader from Littleton, Colorado (where Columbine High School is located) after he published his novel Empire Falls, which features a high school shooting. “How could you?” the reader demanded. How could he write about something so unspeakably painful, something that had happened in a real community, and put it between two covers, and sell it?
The answer, I think, is that it is the job of a writer to find a way to tell stories that aren’t being told. Some of these stories may evoke grief, or fear, or shame. They’re uncomfortable stories, which is why they’re often avoided. In our country today we frequently limit ourselves to certain stories about school shootings, and we only allow the stories to go on for so long. We don’t like to follow them for years, for decades, and to fully grasp the depth of the loss.
How do you tell a story like that? How do you write about something when many of us (myself included) find it almost unbearably painful to consider? One way is to write about the event’s impact in the community around it. When Perseus set out to kill the Medusa he knew that anyone who looked directly at her would turn to stone, so as he approached he focused on her reflection in his shield. Similarly, in my book I don’t directly depict the shooting itself; instead, I write about the way that it’s reflected in the lives of those left behind, parents and friends and siblings and ordinary members of the community many years later, long after the news crews have gone home and stopped telling the story.
Ultimately, I don’t know how the story I have created will be received by general readers and it would be dishonest to say that I don’t worry about how it will be received by survivors of school shootings. I wrote Every Moment After with as much care and respect as I could. I hope that it is received in that spirit: as a book written with the belief that we must find a way to talk about this pain in order to move beyond it. The characters in Every Moment After are more than the tragedy they survived, but it is part of their story. School shootings have become part of our society’s story, but that doesn’t have to define us. If we can learn to discuss it, we can move on.
Joseph Moldover is a writer and a clinical psychologist. His novel, Every Moment After, will be published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on April 9, 2019. He is online at www.josephmoldover.com and @jmoldover.