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Tia Silverthorne Bach and Angela Beach Silverthorne        Kristen Henderson
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Trauma and Writing

A Blog by Novelist Nancy Means Wright

Good writing often comes out of adversity-out of trauma. My first novel back in 1973 was written in a boys' boarding school where the headmaster wouldn't allow me to teach English, my college major, because, he maintained, it was a man's subject. Writing the book was a way to cool the slow burn in me, but even so, in the end, my faculty wife-heroine slowly anesthetizes herself with Sherry. Years later, after two more books, I left a difficult marriage and went down to the mid-Hudson Valley, New York, to teach in a small liberal arts college. I missed my family and friends; I felt like a pariah in this new place. I couldn't write anything longer than a poem!

But then I invented an alter-ego called Fay, a gutsy, older woman divorcee who lives over a Video King and toughs her way through life. I wrote and published almost one hundred poems, many in her persona-poems thrive on adversity! The alter ego helped, but I still craved order in my life. I wanted to go to bed and wake up mornings knowing that all was right in my world. And it wasn't.

I read a newspaper article about an assault on two elderly dairy farmers that appalled me, and decided then and there to write a mystery with a single-mother sleuth (like myself) that would begin in chaos and end in order. I hadn't ready a mystery since fourth grade when I penned one inspired by Nancy Drew that my mother threw out. To my surprise, Mad Season was published by St. Martin's Press, five books in all before, in 2005, my dairy farmer sleuth's cows in Mad Cow Nightmarewere to be euthanized, and my editor and I jointly decided to end the series.

I had remarried, but just after the demise of my series, my husband died of cancer, and I almost quit writing altogether. But I slowly picked up the pieces of my life and went back home to Vermont. Already I had three grandchildren! Enough to live for surely, but a writer must write. I wrote two kids' mysteries - one won an Agatha Award. Yet I longed to write another adult novel.

I taught a course in Women and Literature, and rediscovered 18the century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman). Wollstonecraft became governess for an autocratic Anglo-Irish family - an often humiliating position like my job in that boys' school. There were cries of horror when her Vindication came out, advocating breast feeding for all, and coeducation - they called her a madwoman. And like me, feminist Mary had a dilemma: despite her insistence that marriage was little more than slavery, she liked the company of men. In Paris during the French Revolution she fell in love, got pregnant, was abandoned, and shunned by society all over again. After that she suffered myriad traumas - but a resilient woman, she kept on writing. Her novels Mary: A Fiction and The Wrongs of Womanare largely autobiographical.

I, too, after divorce and widowhood, find writing a therapy. With Wollstonecraft my protagonist, my mystery novel Midnight Fires, set in Ireland when Mary was governess, will be out in April from Perseverance Press (aptly named.). Sometimes, it seems, it's hard to distinguish real life from fiction. This fall a number of traumas affected my family, and my personal anguish has colored the psyches and events in the lives of my fictionalized Mary. Writing, I find, is not only a mediation, but a way of processing our traumas, a way to instill order and a measure of peace in our lives.

*****

Nancy Means Wright is the author of fifteen books, including five mystery novels from St. Martin's Press and a historical novel, Midnight Fires (Perseverance Press). She was an Agatha winner and nominee for two kids' mysteries, and has published stories in American Literary Review, Ellery Queen, Mystery Magazine, et al.

Website: http://nancymeanswright.com