As a writer, I come up against the whole concept of artistic license often. Is it a valid explanation or just an excuse to mine other peoples’ experiences for my own selfish use? Most of the time I think it’s valid, if you’re careful and respectful. That doesn’t mean it’s not scary though, once your story is released into the world; when the chances of offending the person who made the comment or the decision, or had the experience that triggered your storytelling impulse may actually read it and, despite your best attempt to manipulate the details with your imagination, recognize themselves unhappily.
Liza has a self-declared imagination deficiency, admitting to Edith at one point that her plots were always culled from other people’s gardens, and not apologizing for it either. It’s no surprise to Maggie to hear this from Edith after the fact, as her own garden had been right in the path of Liza’s machete, so to speak. What had been Maggie’s idea became the basis for Liza’s bestselling novel without so much as a heads up from Liza herself. This betrayal wounds Maggie to her core, causing her to stop writing altogether.
Until she meets Edith, as per Liza’s will, which bequeathed both Liza’s house in Sag Harbor and her ailing mother to a bewildered Maggie, who hadn’t spoken to Liza in years. Edith’s story, her life story, is on the verge of being stolen as well - not by a person but by Alzheimer’s. When Edith asks Maggie for her help in transcribing her memories so that they’re not lost forever, Maggie of course agrees. By doing so, she is able to reconnect with her own story, not the one that Liza used, but Maggie’s true story: the story of her.
I loved how this raised some unexpected questions for me, the writer. Did Liza know that this would happen? Was her will a way of apologizing to Maggie? Had Liza the foresight to know that somehow Maggie and her mother would forge a mutually healing bond through the very pleasure she had inadvertently taken from Maggie in the first place? Or was it all just a roll of the dice?
I considered having Liza leave a suicide note, explaining her intentions. But it seemed too easy to do so. I liked the idea of the reader grappling with those questions too, and then ultimately, hopefully, being okay with not having them answered outright. A different spin on artistic license I guess; an unexpected full circle moment, which for me, is the best kind.
Zoe Fishman is the author of Driving Lessons, Saving Ruth, Balancing Act and now, Inheriting Edith. Visit HC.com to learn more.