Recently, I posted a review of the book Without Jenny by Mark Gunther. I invited Mark to share a piece with us about his writing, which is included below:
Twenty-two years ago I watched my twelve-year-old daughter Eva get killed by a drunk driver. For several months, I lived two lives. One life looked normal. I worked, worked out, ate, slept, lived with my wife and daughter. In the other, I wandered alone through the valley of the shadow of death, guilt and despair my companions, an uncompromising rigidity my face to the world. After a few months, when I could think again, I thought that I maybe could write myself out of the trauma. Despite having never done a single piece of creative writing in my life, I wanted to write a book about that day, that hour, that minute, those few seconds. I’d write from the point of view of everyone involved in it: The driver of the car. His passenger. The cop. The Good Samaritan passerby. But I never even touched the keyboard. It turned out that I couldn’t tell the story of everyone else while my own story, obscured by the froth of my two lives, remained untold.
Thirteen years passed. I turned sixty. On a lark I enrolled in a creative writing workshop. And there, in a twenty-minute exercise, I wrote six paragraphs that went back and forth between a husband and wife, the mother and the father of a dead daughter. It was fiction; it was true. I was hooked. After the workshop was over, I kept writing. The words were there, and they just kept coming. After fifteen months I had nearly 90,000 of them, ones and zeros stacked haphazardly in a file I called “Living With Jenny.”
As weak as that draft was, the words had power. They forced me into an MFA program to try and learn how to manage them. It worked; 65,000 of those words have become a novel, Without Jenny, a deeply emotional story of loss and despair, of suffering, of love and hope and forgiveness. It’s nothing like the book I had imagined; but it’s the book I wrote. The story it tells is true. I’m proud of it.
But as this story was being channeled through my fingers something else was happening to me. Books started to make a different kind of sense. I read more fiction. I saw the structure as well as the content in those New Yorker essays I’d been reading my entire adult life. I read the book reviews. I began to observe my life differently. I became a writer.
It was never something I imagined for myself, when I was young, yet it is so. I am changed. Most weekday afternoons I sit with the keyboard, and on some of those afternoons new words are there. I write stories of my past, of choices made or not made, of my years of ultra-cycling, of the constancy of love and the thoughtlessly fickle nature of living. One wall of my study is covered with a profusion of Post-it Notes outlining my next novel. Even my emails, my business writing, the birthday cards I write; all my words have acquired specificity, color, and intention. It’s all story.
Eva’s absence grows larger with the passing of the years, rippling outward endlessly in all the moments lived without her, in the markers that pass without acknowledgement; no graduation, no career, no wedding, no grandchildren. Yet oddly enough, the corollary of grief is gratitude. Sometimes loss and love are quilted so tightly that I can’t tell one from the other. This is what I learned from those days at my keyboard, and is what informs my writing: These dichotomies are dynamic, and it is between these dichotomies that the story lies. Their mysteries tease and entice me; my writing practice is to seek out the words that bring them into the light.
To learn more about Mark and his work, please visit his website at: Author Mark Gunther