Question: Is Every Time We Say Goodbye based on your own family?
Answer: Yes and no. Or, better yet: yes, but.
Yes: I wrote a novel about absence, abandonment and adoption because so many members of my family have been separated from those they love – children from parents, parents from each other, people from themselves.
Yes: many of the details in Every Time We Say Goodbye were snipped, clipped or ripped from my own life: my brother and I did grow up in my grandparents’ house beside a creek, we did see our mother one Saturday a month until we were teenagers, and there really was a stolen car in our garage at one point.
But it’s hard to describe that particular room in the mind where the past (or anything else) gets turned into fiction. I don’t think there are two separate production lines, one for autobiographical fiction and one for completely made-up stuff. (In fact, I would argue that the same machinery is used for both fiction and autobiography -- hence the spillover that so outraged some of James Frey’s readers.)
In Every Time We Say Goodbye, the text became a separate place, and the narrative made demands of its own. Characters that might have begun their lives as somewhat resembling Auntie Jan and Uncle Trink began to live and breathe as independent creatures. Sometimes I reached out of the text and groped around in a remembered room for details, but more often, the writing self was doing what it needed to do: making stuff up in order to get the story right and true.