Sunday, June 12, 2011

"Back then, Ruby thought of life as a cosmic crazy quilt. Like maybe on the way to being born, a person is handed a gunny sack full of scraps to be pulled out one by one. At the time, the pieces might seem totally unrelated to each other, ugly even. A person might come across a piece that didn't make any sense, or hurt someone terribly. Yet at the end of her days, she would be able to take a big step back and see that all those raggedy scraps came to be stitched together by time and toil, and tears, into a beautiful quilt that would warm her ancient bones."

Mothers and Other Liars.

This round we've been talking about story, and I have loved hearing what everyone says about their own creative process. My writing is definitely
more character-driven than plot-driven, think Driving Miss Daisy rather than Herman driving the Munstermobile. Someone earlier talked about having a story and then going out to find the characters to tell it. I like to think about meeting my characters, on a park bench say, and asking them to tell me the story they want to tell, in their own way.

And yet. After talking with readers when my novel, Mothers and Other Liars, was published last fall, I recognized that the book came together much like the crazy quilt that the protagonist, Ruby, describes as how she sees her life.

I may think my work is not autobiographical, that the story is told to me on a sunny day in a park, but the reality is that my characters are building their stories from the scrips and scraps in my mind. Some out of whole cloth: a childhood memory here, a memory of a time with my nieces there; some woven together from a tangle of threads pulled from somewhere in my often-times loosely stitched brain. One piece, I realized, was a scrap from a short story I wrote when I was a teenager and up all night with a toothache.

How about you? When re-reading your "new" work, do you feel a frisson, a sense of deja vu? Do you find the pebble long embedded in your shoe, the grain of sand in your oyster? This may seem trite to you but was revelatory to me, that whether the plot or the characters are driving your story, the vehicle is built inside your own head.

AMY BOURRET is a graduate of Yale Law School and Texas Tech University and a former partner in an international law firm. Her pro bono work with child advocacy organizations sparked the passion that fuels Mothers and Other Liars, her debut novel and a Target Stores Breakout Book. She lived for several years in Santa Fe and now splits her time between Aspen, Co and Dallas, TX.

Visit her at


  1. Amy,
    Great post. I picked back up a story I started two years ago (upon figuring out what the story is REALLY about) and your quilt analogy is spot on. I'm using my memories of all of our summer road trips in the RV in my novel, and when I visited two RV dealers for research, it was amazing how even more memories came flooding back.

  2. Love this post, Amy, and your explanation of the patches that made up Ruby's quilt (and your book!). I've been thinking a lot about this very thing. It's always strange to me when family members read my books and say, "Oh, this must be about so-and-so" or "this must come from that one summer we were all at the cottage"--or whatever--because when I write, I'm buried in the story and the characters. The only time I surface to connect with my life is when I say, "Evie wouldn't react that way. I would. She's more reserved." Then I have to go back and rewrite, staying true to the character. All the autobiographical stuff that may weave itself in isn't done consciously. Maybe that's weird--or maybe it's not--but however things work, I'm just glad that they do! I feel like there's a little magic involved in writing every book, and I don't want to stop and question it, or it might vanish!