Welcome Barbara Stark-Nemon to Tuesday Chat! Her forthcoming novel, Hard Cider, comes out in September and is available now for pre-order. Learn more about Barbara below, and find links to her books. –Katie Rose

The What-If Book

When characters and events in your novel bear a remarkable resemblance to people and incidents in your own life, the inevitable questions arise- is this an autobiographical novel? When readers ask, ‘why did you write this novel?’ is it fair to deflect the question with the simple generic answer ‘It’s a What-If book?’

My first novel, Even in Darkness is based on a family story, so I’ve already thought and written a great deal about considerations of privacy, of ownership of stories, and honoring emotional truth when fictionalizing real events and individuals.

When I tried to explain in depth to my three grown sons why I wrote Hard Cider, I got some vacant stares that alternated with that ‘you have an amazing grasp of the obvious’ look.   Yet they understood immediately what I meant when I simply said that Hard Cider is a What-If book.

What if some of the more dramatic and unusual occurrences in our family’s past, along with some of my dreams and ambitions, had turned out quite differently from what actually happened?  What if my own experiences with infertility, adoption, surrogacy, challenging children and a long-term marriage complicated by two devoted careers, sprinkled with passions for gardening and fiber arts, had resulted in very different outcomes?  What might that look like?

It might look like this….Abbie Rose Stone’s acquired wisdom runs deep, and so do her scars. She has successfully navigated the shoals of a long marriage, infertility, challenging children and a career. Now it’s her turn to fulfill her dream of producing hard apple cider along the northern shores of Lake Michigan that she loves. She resists new versions of the old pull of family dynamics that threaten to derail her plan, but nothing can protect Abbie from the shock a lovely young stranger delivers when she exposes a long-held secret. Abbie must overcome circumstances that severely test her self-determination, her loyalties, and her understanding of who constitutes her true family.

I don’t make hard cider in northern Michigan, and so far, no lovely young stranger has exposed a long-held secret to completely disrupt my family life. Even though I have a love/hate relationship with the old writing adage “Write what you know,” a lot of what I know went into Hard Cider. But it’s a novel, not an autobiography. I love that as a novelist, I can use what I understand deeply to inform stories about worlds I want to know better, and I agree with May Sarton that, “I have never written a book that was not born out of a question I needed to answer for myself.”

The questions I’ve repetitively had to answer for myself as a person have to do with resilience, acceptance and change, and family.  Both my novels feature strong female protagonists who face difficult, sometimes deeply traumatic challenges.  How will they overcome these adversities? Where will the reserves of resilience, the acceptance of many forms of love, and the strength to broaden the definition of family come from? Writing my women characters has helped find those answers.  In some ways, all novels are What-If books. Fiction that begins in personal family experiences are an interesting subset.  I value what I’ve learned from the complexity of my real life.  But what if……

Barbara Stark-Nemon, author of the award-winning novel Even in Darkness, lives, writes, cycles, swims, and gardens in Ann Arbor and Northport, Michigan. Her second novel, Hard Cider comes out in September 2018. Pre-order Hard Cider: A Novel  here. Learn more about Barbara at her website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.