I come from a family of outrageous storytellers. If everything I was told as a child was true, it’s a wonder that there isn’t an entire wing of a penitentiary somewhere dedicated to just my family members. We’d have had to hold our family reunions there.
Some examples: My newly married grandmother shot her young husband with a pistol when he scared her by coming home unexpectedly from a business trip in the middle of the night, and—BAM! Missed him by this much. He lived, but they got a divorce anyway, and two marriages later, she ended up with a man who had stolen somebody else’s identity and lived his life impersonating a wealthy businessman while he bilked thousands of people out of their life savings. Nice.
That’s just for starters. There’s also the story of Aunt Murtis who put a pillow over her husband’s face when he was dying of something or other. My aunt who, as a toddler, squatted down in the street as a big Mack truck came barreling toward her—but, haha, she was fine. She just squatted down and the truck tires missed her. And then there was the Air Force pilot who fell in love with my mother while she was married to my father, if you please, and stole a jet to fly over our house at a very low altitude. And, blah blah blah, the great-great grandfather who was said to have owned Cape Canaveral, but lost it in gambling debts.
True? One never knows, not with my family. I don’t think they even know.
It’s perhaps no wonder I grew up to be a fiction writer, aka someone who tells lies for a living. I was the quiet one, you see, listening and watching, taking it all in. It wasn’t until I grew up and moved away that characters started showing up in my head that were like the people I’d grown up listening to: people who were maybe a little bit crazy, a little bit brave, and who inhabited a world they were the champions of. They have much more daring than I have, these characters (and my relatives)—and yet at their center, as they are breaking hearts or having their own hearts broken, they are like me, yearning to make a connection, to be heard and loved for who they are, and to pass along their passion for life.
I run into traces of them whenever I write. A whiff of my grandmother (the one with the shotgun) showed up for my newest novel, Matchmaking for Beginners, becoming 85-year old Blix: a hellraiser who discovered her own, unrewarded talent for matchmaking and magic, and who wasn’t a bit scared of dying or worried about stirring up some love and trouble wherever she went.
“Hi, Grandmom,” I said. And she said, “Please. You know I hate that name. Call me G.G. for Glamorous Grandmother.”