YVONNE: Where did the spark for Family Matters come from?
TERESA: About 4 years ago, I was teaching a memoirs class. I gave a homework assignment to write about someone who’s been influential in your life, and I decided to do the homework, too. I wrote 2 or 3 pages, which is really the beginning of the book when my Uncle Frank is intervening in my life because my aunt told him I was having a problem. The group liked it enough that they asked me to write a little more. The story has been in my head since I was a young girl. It’s been simmering, and not that I really wanted to write it, but it keeps coming back in my head. I thought writing these pages would be a good way to maybe drift into it and see what happened. Then I wrote a couple more chapters and thought . . . maybe I’ll tell the whole thing.
YVONNE: How did writing Family Matters evolve from a memoir exercise into a novel?
TERESA: I was afraid to make the book a pure memoir. Not that any of the people I’m writing about are still alive, but their children are, and they would know. I got a little nervous about that. Once I gave myself the liberty to call it creative non-fiction – fact-based fiction – then I dressed things up a lot. I was afraid to make it a direct memoir, but I wanted to get the information on paper and then change things to make it seem more frightening or suspenseful.
YVONNE: It takes courage to reveal yourself when you’re writing about your own life. In Family Matters, you also had other layers of fear to contend with, didn’t you?
TERESA: I would not sign a paper that says Uncle Frank was with the mafia, but it was always alluded to in a way that the kids weren’t supposed to understand. “Uncle Frank can take care of that.” Not that we thought he was intentionally hurting or killing anybody, but we did understand that he was connected in some way. If I ever asked, the response would be, “What are you talking about?” Uncle Frank did have a gun, and he made a point of letting us know he had one. Because of that, we were making up stories about him all the time.
Then, as I got further into the story, it got less comfortable to write because I had to keep remembering things that were unpleasant. What I never accounted for is that once it was a book, and I was so proud and happy to have a book, I really feel very exposed. It’s kind of like . . . maybe I didn’t want people to know but it’s too late now. It’s out there.
YVONNE: This is a story that’s been living in your head and your heart for a long time. How challenging was it to delve into and write about your past?
TERESA: It could be unnerving. I was pretty embedded in it when I was writing -- visualizing how it was happening as I captured it, everything from what someone was wearing to where he or she was sitting. Sometimes it took so much emotional energy that I’d say, “Okay, I wrote that. Maybe I’ll come back to it in a couple of weeks.”
YVONNE: How did you get the writing done? Did you have a routine?
TERESA: I was a procrastinator for periods of time, sometimes just thinking about it but not writing it. I was so afraid I was going to die before I finished. (laughter) When was actively writing it, I had to know how the next scene was going to start. I needed a sentence or an action before I could sit down. That’s the way I got from scene to scene, how I saw it. That’s why it’s a book with so many chapters. People have commented that it’s very script-like because there’s so much dialogue and a lot of scenes. I guess that’s how it was unwinding in my head.
YVONNE: Did you know how it was going to end – that the course of the relationship would be the arc of the story?
TERESA: I kind of knew where I was headed. Sometimes I had a little trouble making things move in a way that got there naturally. My husband Bob actually gave me a suggestion of how to end it that is not exactly totally off the truth, but makes it a little more dramatic. I thought, “Maybe I’ll have my uncle kill him,” but Bob said, “I have a better idea.”
YVONNE: And, we will not reveal the gist of his better idea . . . that’s to be discovered by going on this journey with Kitty. Speaking of journeys . . . where is your writing taking you next? Are you working on something new?
TERESA: In my head, yes. I did just join a writing group. I had nothing new to offer at the first meeting, and that inspired me to think . . . let’s move this along. Also, a few people have finished the book and said there’s a sequel living in there somewhere, but I’m not sure I’m ready to do that now.
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Yvonne Lieblein writes poetry and fiction from her seaside village home in Greenport, NY. She’s written a novel with a musical soundtrack, The Wheelhouse Café, and is co-creator of the BOOKPROJECT, a novel night out where book lovers meet. Yvonne also brings two decades worth of high-octane experiences as an entrepreneur to her work as a catalyst, compass and champion who helps people define and achieve success on their own terms. You can find her at yvonnelieblein.com.