A couple weeks ago I had a good long conversation with The Open Notebook about writing My Mother’s Lover (a story about my mother’s obscured World War II romance). Now the Nieman Storyboard, a wonderful site that “breaks down story in every medium,” posted a conversation I had recently with their Andrea Pitzer: Old story, new media: David Dobbs brings family secrets to the Atavist.
She had some good questions:
There’s a moment in the story where you go to California expecting to find something, and it’s not there. It’s a lovely moment, because it really got me wondering what would happen next. It underlines that not only is historical information hard to come by, sometimes even the facts we think we have are wrong. It gave a wonderful sense of just how complicated this chase was.
That’s why I put that episode in the story. You think you finally have something in your hand that you’ve been looking for a long time, aaaaand… no. It slipped away again. I think all of us who write heavily reported nonfiction, we experience [this] all the time, but [the lead that slipped away] doesn’t go into the story. What you put in the story is when you finally found it. Or if you didn’t find it, it just doesn’t show up at all.
In this case, it can go in and sort of be an actual event in the story that helps underline the central problem of the whole story that is my mother’s lover. How hard it is to grasp these things, how you’re trying to pin things down and it’s very difficult. This man in particular, Angus, proved elusive to just about everyone.
- My Mother’s Lover | The Atavist
- Finding Angus: A True Story of Love, War, and Family – excerpt at The Atlantic
- What Mom Was Like – A eulogy for the woman in ‘My Mother’s Lover”
- David Dobbs deconstructs “My Mother’s Lover” at The Open Notebook
- Evan Ratliff on The Atavist: narrative throwback or the future of nonfiction storytelling? – Nieman Storyboard – A project of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard