Lynda Rutledge: The Time I Broke Up with Fiction

Lynda Rutledge’s path to publishing Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale – which comes out tomorrow! – included stints petting baby rhinos and dodging hurricanes as a freelance journalist, as well as a serious “break up” with fiction. Shoeless Joe author W.P. Kinsella calls the debut “eerie, charming, heart rending and heart breaking at the same time … a triumph.” If it’s half as funny as her story of getting it into print – and with its title, how can it fail to be? – it’s destined to be a huge success. – Meg

A decade ago I broke up with fiction. I had given it my heart and soul, and what had it done for me? Broke my heart, I tell you, and darkened my soul. Thus began my Blue Period. At the time, I was a freelance journalist, involved in a fruitful if purely professional relationship with nonfiction, but I couldn’t quite shake those pesky literary dreams. So by the time of the break-up, I had been herding words into “promising” failed novels so long I’d forgotten, no doubt on purpose, some of my earlier fiction attempts. I bumped into a former writing workshop classmate that year, and the first thing she asked was: “How’s April?

“April who?” I said.

“You know, your character in your novel.”

Omigod, I thought. I’ve blocked out April and her entire world. That can’t be good.

About that same time, I heard National Book Award winner Charles Johnson admit he’d written six novels before he sold one, so I began counting up mine. There was the failed coming-of-age novel, the failed mystery, and the failed April idea…whatever that was. There was the arts council award and the writing residencies that kept fiction sweet-talking in my ear, which inspired the failed roman a clef that needed me to be dead before seeing print. And then came the comic novel set at a garage sale. When it was taken by an agent on the condition I’d do a rewrite, I thought fiction had finally proposed. I can still hear the plop that manuscript made as the postman pitched it back on my front porch when the agent changed her mind.

So I’d had it—I showed fiction the door. Then I went out and saw the world on the strength of my nonfiction pen taking every crazy extroverted assignment I was offered, dodging hurricanes, swimming with endangered sea creatures, petting baby rhinos, even hangliding velcroed to a guy off a Swiss mountain. I was taking the breakup hard. I was going to have fun even if it killed me.

And here is where the proverbial worm turns: While I was having all that frantic death-defying nonfiction fun, I caught fiction sneaking in the upstairs window. My mind was being unfaithful, still playing around with the last spurned idea– the garage sale. Forget the thing! I told myself; it’s not good for you! Any well-adjusted person accepts the concept of a failed idea! But as time went on, I began to grasp the possibility that it wasn’t the concept that had failed, but my immature treatment of it.

So over that entire decade, as I went about my nonfiction business, I let the idea simmer and grow and deepen as I did the same thing as a writer. Humor became a tool of the truth, not an end in itself. Profound themes worth the effort began to form. And I slowly realized there was a reason the idea would not let me go. It was trying to tell me something I missed during the first fling. Because what are stories but ways to explain the world to ourselves? And if lucky, others? And in so doing, I understood that this was what I wanted from the relationship all along, not just a good time, but a commitment that offered me food for my soul as well as my heart. The moment was right: I reinvented the idea and the newer, better garage sale is now, as of this very moment, open for business–Faith Bass Darling’s Last Garage Sale, to be exact.

So what is the moral of my little tale? Never give up? No, something deeper, I hope: Give up when you need to, but keep listening for the idea that won’t let you go. It just may be trying to tell you something wonderful when the time is finally right. – Lynda

About Meg Waite Clayton

Meg Waite Clayton is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of four novels, including THE WEDNESDAY SISTERS (a writing group novel) and the forthcoming THE RACE FOR PARIS www.megwaiteclayton.com
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3 Responses to Lynda Rutledge: The Time I Broke Up with Fiction

  1. Julie Kibler says:

    Lynda, you are a real trouper. For this, I am very thankful, because I absolutely loved FAITH BASS DARLING’S LAST GARAGE SALE! (Which I was lucky enough to read a few months ago.) This is a gorgeous book, folks. Get yours fast!

  2. Mayleen says:

    Its nice to hear that after a dark site of your life you already over come the entire decade, as I went about my nonfiction business, I let the idea simmer and grow and deepen as I did the same thing as a writer.

  3. Change the names and dates and this could be me. Thanks, Lynda, for sharing this encouraging story. This especially reached out to me: ” Give up when you need to, but keep listening for the idea that won’t let you go.”

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