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March 2007

Philip Larkin Had a Point (Kidding!)

Tour info for What The Dead Know When I began writing, I knew that my work would be received, by some, as autobiography, and I accepted that as a fair trade-off for being published. But I was determined to spare my family the indignity of being mistaken for fictional counterparts. Tess Monaghan's parents share virtually nothing with mine. As for my sister - well, Tess has no siblings, so my sister was really off the hook. I had taken care of everyone.

What the Dead Know Or so I thought.

A family member who wishes to remain anonymous recently confessed to me that he/she tires of being asked about details in my novels. Despite my best attempts to shield my relatives from this kind of inquiry, it happens all the time. So as I head out this month on tour for WHAT THE DEAD KNOW - for details, scroll down - let me introduce a companion piece to last year's How to Talk to a Writer: namely, How to Talk to a Writer's Family:
  1. Do not ask: Do you really like your daughter's/sister's/cousin's/stepmom's book? This question is a lose-lose. If the relative says yes, the interlocutor smiles knowingly and says: Of course you have to say that. (This has happened repeatedly to someone in my family, perhaps because I am related to several intellectual heavyweights, who presumably are shamed by my life as a genre writer.) And if the relative actually says no -- well, do you have the professional credentials to provide the necessary counseling? Think about it.
  2. Never ask: Did this really happen? Assume it didn't. For example, in WHAT THE DEAD KNOW, when the one sister makes a game of spotting the department store that tells her that her family is near the end of a long car trip, and the father then turns it into a game for the whole family to play, and this makes the girl sick and miserable, because she is so bitterly competitive -- okay, actually that's true. But it's about me, and everything else in the book is wholly fictional.
  3. Except for -- well, no, I pinkie-swore not to reveal which family member did that. So avoid that topic, too.
  4. By the way, if you ask anyone in my family if my mother ever had an affair with her boss, I will come at you like a spider monkey. I went to Baltimore city public schools and we don't tolerate that.
  5. Never, ever, ever ask a writer's relative: Can you pass along my manuscript and force her to read it, blurb it and get me an agent? Because my relatives tend toward good manners, they will say yes. They are lying.
  6. Finally, please never ask: What is she really like? Because, lord help me, they might decide they are perfectly justified in telling you.


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