All too often throughout my life, I have viewed the word ‘excess’ using The Canadian Oxford Dictionary’s negative connotation: “The overstepping of the accepted limits of moderation.” Another, perhaps more auspicious, definition in the same dictionary is, “The state or an instance of exceeding, to go beyond what is allowed, necessary, or advisable, to surpass, to excel.”
Soon after the launch of Arriving: 1909–1919, I began receiving emails and comments from my inquisitive readers wondering if I had a tendency to exceed expected parameters in relation to my characters, of the many themes and family secrets, and my proclivity for cliff-hangers.
From Michelle: “You have so many characters, and there are so many twists and turns in your story I can hardly believe one family could harbour that many secrets. And did you have to include every single theme you could think of?”
When I congratulated Brie for her insights into my novels, but would not be specific: “You even talk in cliff-hangers! It’s not enough that your first two books, and practically every chapter in them ends in suspense, now you won’t even tell me what I have figured out!”
As soon as I started to write my Understanding Ursula trilogy, I chose to follow Anne Lamott’s advice from Bird by Bird, to focus on character development: “Whatever your characters do or say will be born out of who they are, go into each of them, let them reveal who they are, and capture how each one feels, thinks, talks, survives.”
I have lost track of the number of readers who have expressed how surprised they were by what many of my characters did—by their outrageous and often excessive behaviours, by the extremes some of them went to throughout their lives. To be honest, years after completing my trilogy, I am equally astonished by the feelings, actions, and outcomes experienced by so many members of the Werner family.
Since I disclosed to the media and my avid fans prior to its launch that Choosing: 1940–1989 is definitely autobiographical, I have become increasingly aware of an intriguing development. From emails and commentary during my appearances, it is becoming apparent to me that more and more of my readers perceive my trilogy as the literal truth and, furthermore, are asking very specific questions about one or another of the Werner family.
When I began Choosing, I made a deliberate choice to write my truth, and I authored a personal account of aspects of my own life. But I also acknowledge that I did take great artistic licence with my characters, or they with me, possibly to the point of going beyond anticipated limits.
Still, I prefer Aristotle’s perspective: “If you give a ball to a child, and if it be the best ball in the marketplace, though it cost but sixpence, it is an example of magnificence. And, style whether in life or literature comes, I think, from excess, that something over and above utility that wrings the heart.”