The Truth about Renee
Readers of the novel When Horses Had Wings have asked how much of my life resembles my protagonist’s, Renee Goodchild. The answer to that question is somewhat complicated.
Renee and I have shared many challenges: teen pregnancy, high school disruption, poverty, unemployment, domestic violence, and, yes, even child custody battles. However, I have not personally been subjected to all of the physical and emotional blows depicted in my book. A good deal of fictional storytelling was required to complete the novel…because real life rarely provides a structured, or even an interesting, plot.
Just as Renee’s spouse Kenny does, my first husband, the one I married at age 16, worked as a garbage collector. We lived in a shotgun-style duplex that had no insulation, no air conditioning, and practically no heat. I borrowed the book’s setting straight from my actual life.
I have a son from my early marriage, and today he is a policeman. Thus, the Seventies references to TV shows about law enforcement. I thought it humorous when I discovered the car, a Plymouth Fury, I’d assigned to the character Kenny was a model widely used in Texas police departments during the 1970s. Prior to completing the book, I had been unaware of this fact. Sometimes The Muse guides us in odd ways.
Like Renee, the first automobile I ever owned was a used Ford Mustang. I can still recall how empowered I felt, the first time I drove to work.
You might find this hard to believe, but I know what it feels like to be substituted for a horse and hitched to a plow. I also have first-hand experience at being shoved, when six months pregnant, to the ground.
Neither of those experiences did much for my self-esteem.
But the point of writing When Horses Had Wings wasn’t to enumerate my earlier life’s hardships. In fact, there are no perpetrators in this story. The wounded characters in the book are struggling to meet their essential human needs, and in the process they nearly destroy one another. These individuals suffer, grow, learn, and emotionally evolve—or they don’t. Yet, in one way or another, most wind up better off than they were at the book’s beginning.
By writing this novel, I’d initially hoped to make sense of the challenges I’d overcome, to reflect upon what I’d learned the hard way and, more importantly, to consider why I’d chosen that difficult education route. But as I worked on the manuscript, I realized the story might have greater value. Maybe it would provide insight for others, whether battered brides, teen moms, social services workers, or family court practitioners. I had experienced something far too common, though poorly understood. Writing about these issues, I decided, might help thousands of other women.
Before any of that would be possible, though, I knew I’d need to develop my fiction writing skills, court an agent, and land a publisher. That was a pretty tall order for a woman who’d just begun penning newspaper op/eds for $75 per column. Nonetheless, that voice, the one always urging me forward, refused to let me focus on failure.
I struggled through several drafts of this book before I found sufficient distance between my own experiences and Renee’s. My goal was to tell Renee’s story (not mine) as truthfully as possible, without sympathizing so much with her viewpoint that I failed to address the other character’s issues, needs, and desires. All these individuals shared the same internal craving.
So did I achieve my writing objectives? I can’t say. Readers will have to decide for themselves. I simply wrote what I knew and what I’d gradually come to understand over time and after further contemplation.
In many ways, Renee Goodchild’s life mirrors mine. Unfortunately, her story reflects thousands of other women’s lives too. I’d like to think this book might help to reduce those numbers by at least a few.
Note: When Horses Had Wings has sold more than 1,000 copies in four months! Thank you to everyone who has purchased this book, provided a review, or shared this story with a friend.
THANK YOU, DAILY CHEAP READS, FOR FEATURING WHEN HORSES HAD WINGS TODAY!