The Perils of Fictionalizing Your Family

What are the consequences we inflict on our families with a no-holds-barred exposure of them through our writing? Where does our truth end and another’s privacy begin? Our panel will discuss these complex and weighty questions of conscience that have plagued writers since the beginning of literature. Based on the first-hand experience of writing, publishing, and going on book tour with stories that delve into family secrets, our panel of authors will lead the audience in a discussion of that inner battle.

Questions we’ll address as part of the discussion:

1) What kind of inner resistance have you experienced in trying to write fiction based on true events and real people in your life?

2) How do you show respect for your family while honoring the need to tell your own story in an open and truthful way?

3) What is the worst thing you imagine might happen if you wrote “the truth?”

4) If you choose to censor some of your material for fear of hurting others, how do you make sure you are not censoring so much as to dilute the impact of your art?

5) Though you’ve published your work as “a novel,” the first question in nearly every interview and book club visit is whether the book is based on a true story. How do you answer in a way that doesn’t further intrude on the privacy of your family?



Jessica Anya Blau’s newest novel, DRINKING CLOSER TO HOME, has been called “a raging success” and “unrelentingly side-splittingly funny.”  It was featured in Target stores as a “Breakout Book” and made many Best Books of the Year lists for 2011. Her first novel, THE SUMMER OF NAKED SWIM PARTIES, was picked as a Best Summer Book by the Today Show, the New York Post and New York Magazine.  The San Francisco Chronicle and other newspapers chose it as one of the Best Books of the Year. Jessica’s third novel, THE WONDER BREAD SUMMER, was just purchased by HarperCollins. Jessica wrote the screenplay for FRANNY, a film staring Frances Fisher and Steve Howey.  Franny is now in post-production in Los Angeles. Currently Jessica is a Visiting Assistant Professor at Goucher College.  She also teaches at Johns Hopkins University where she attended The Writing Seminars. 

Susan Henderson is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, the recipient of an Academy of American Poets award, and author of the bestselling novel, UP FROM THE BLUE. Her work has been included in the World Trade Center memorial, THE FUTURE DICTIONARY OF AMERICA (McSweeney’s Books, 2004), THE BEST AMERICAN NON-REQUIRED READING (Houghton Mifflin, 2007), NOT QUITE WHAT I WAS PLANNING (HarperPerennial, 2008), ONLINE WRITING: THE BEST OF THE FIRST TEN YEARS (Snowvigate Press, 2009), and DRINKING DIARIES: WOMEN SERVE THEIR STORIES STRAIGHT UP (Perseus, 2012). She blogs at LitPark.comThe Nervous Breakdown, and Huffington Post. Her husband is a costume designer, filmmaker, and Chair of a university drama department. They live in NY with their two boys. 

Jessica Keener’s fiction has been listed in The Pushcart Prize under “Outstanding Writers” and published in numerous literary reviews. Writing awards include a grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council Artist’s Grant Program, a Joan Jakobson Scholarship from Wesleyan Writers Conference; a Chekhov Prize for Excellence in Fiction by the editors of Wilderness House Literary Review; and second prize in Redbook magazine’s fiction contest. For more than a dozen years she’s also been a features writer for The Boston GlobeDesign New EnglandO, the Oprah Magazine and other national magazines. She has taught writing and literature at Brown University, University of Miami, and Boston University. Night Swim is her debut novel.

Leora Skolkin-Smith was born in Manhattan in 1952, and spent her childhood between Pound Ridge, New York, and Israel, traveling with her family to her mother’s birthplace in Jerusalem every three years. She earned her BA and MFA and was awarded a teaching fellowship for graduate work, all at Sarah Lawrence.

Ms. Skolkin-Smith’s first published novel, EDGES was edited and published by the late Grace Paley for Ms. Paley’s own imprint at Glad Day books. EDGES was nominated for the 2006 PEN/Faulkner Award by Grace Paley. 

THE FRAGILE MISTRESS, a feature film based on EDGES, is currently in pre-production, scheduled to begin shooting on location in Jerusalem, Jordan, and New York, produced by Triboro Pictures, directed by Michael Gunther.

Excerpts from HYSTERA were first published by Persea Books, and recently appeared in The Hamilton Stone Review. Recent publications include a piece from THE FRAGILE MISTRESS, which appeared in Guernica Magazine in 2010.

Leora was recently a panelist, at The Haitian Cultural International Book Festival, The Miami International Book Fair, The Virginia Festival of the Book, and The National Women’s Association. She is currently a contributing editor to and her critical essays have been published in The Washington Post, The National Book Critic’s Circle’s Critical Mass, Conversational Reading, the Quarterly Review, and other places.