A fellow author asked me a question typically asked by readers: “Where do you get your characters?” Before I could answer, she shook her head and said, “No, what I really want to know is, are you writing about your patients?”
My gut tightened and a sadness settled in my chest. I knew this question would come—especially from people who didn’t know me well, and didn’t understand the depth of confidentiality. I feared people would make this assumption as soon as they found out I left the mental health field to write fiction.
For close to three decades, I worked in psychiatric facilities— outpatient clinics, residential treatment centers, crisis centers, and psychiatric hospitals. I’ve worked with hundreds of patients and their families. Some much less stable than others. Some, downright dangerous.
When I first thought about writing a story where a sexual assault incites everything that follows, I shoved the idea aside. Within the population I worked, such violence was way too common. But even in the general population, one in every four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18. (National Sexual Violence Resource Center). I wanted to expose, not individuals, but the conditions that surround such trauma.
I wrote a first version of Twisted and put it away--for a year. I really wasn’t ready to bring the story to light. I wasn’t ready to expose myself as such a gritty writer. But the characters wouldn't leave me alone. They beseeched me:
I pulled the manuscript out of the drawer and revised it. I flipped character roles, probed into my characters’ minds—how could I not, with my background?—and controlled their actions to increase story tension. The resulting psychological suspense accomplished what I intended: a story of hope, of triumph, of empowerment.
Do I still carry the fear that a dysfunctional prior patient will accuse me of writing his or her story? That concern is fading. If I want to give free rein to my creativity, I can’t stifle my writing with that fear.
Sarah and the other characters in the novel grew and developed as I blended characters from one manuscript to another, as I pushed them to make the choices I needed for the story. But make no mistake, situations like theirs exist in real life, to real people.
Twisted is entertainment, as is all fiction at its core. And yet . . .
And yet . . .
I receive letters from strangers—strangers!—who thank me for understanding their experiences. For giving them a voice. For telling their story.
Marjorie Brody is an award-winning author and Pushcart Prize Nominee. Her short stories appear in literary magazines and the Short Story America Anthology, Vols. I, II and III. Her debut psychological suspense novel, TWISTED, was awarded an Honorable Mention at the 2013 Great Midwest Book Festival and won the Texas Association of Authors 2014 Best Young Adult Fiction Book Award. TWISTED is available in digital and print at http://tinyurl.com/cvl5why or http://tinyurl.com/bqcgywl. Marjorie invites you to visit her at www.marjoriespages.com.