This week, we celebrate the publication of Half! Author Sharon Harrigan shares how life can imitate art.
One of the joys of publishing a novel—unlike my first book, a memoir—is that I can tell anyone who sees herself in one of my characters: It’s not you! I made the whole thing up. What a relief to hide under the cover of fiction. But the truth is, like many novelists, I drew inspiration from my life to write Half. The intimacy between the identical twin sisters is based on the close bond I had with my brother, a year and a half older than me. And the girls’ larger-than-life, part hero/part monster father has a passing resemblance to my own.
Here’s the surprising thing: recently my life seems to draw inspiration from my book, not the other way around. I can’t tell whether this turn of events is delightfully magical or just plain creepy. Maybe both.
In my novel, two siblings are so close they speak in one voice, until they can’t. They discover a secret that breaks their collective voice in half.
At the end of 2019, the advance readers’ copies had just gone out. My brother was visiting for Christmas, and we were walking my dog to the playground when he said, “I have something to tell you.” His voice hushed, even though no one but my cockapoo was anywhere near enough to overhear us. My brother is a professor, used to giving lectures and speeches, and usually words flow easily from him. But on that night, they came slowly. One. At. A. Time. He told me about a terrible event he hadn’t shared with anyone. I could hear, in his hesitation, how much it hurt.
I felt his pain. People use that phrase all the time, but they don’t usually mean a physical sensation. I do. Stress gives some people headaches; in others, it causes tight shoulders or a churning stomach. For me, stress stabs me in the throat. I developed a flu that resulted in a damaged nerve, paralyzing one of my two vocal cords. I posted the diagnosis on Facebook. “So funny,” my friends said. “You wrote a book about a voice breaking in half and then it happened to you!”
“I know,” I responded. “Be careful what you write about.”
Half ends in 2030, when climate change has resulted in a world that didn’t seem possible in the Before Times. It snows endlessly for months, the sky a white out.
In real life 2020, we muse wistfully about the pre-pandemic universe, a place we know will never exist in quite the same way again. It might as well be blizzarding for months, because we act as if we’re snowed in, barely ever leaving our houses.
In my fictional near future, “a fault line from Portland to Seattle caused the biggest earthquake in recent history. Sea levels rose and coastal houses, once worth millions, couldn’t be sold for scraps.” Will something like this happen in ten years? No one knows what the future will hold.
At least I don’t know. But my book—in its own magical or creepy or artfully mysterious way—just might.
Sharon Harrigan teaches at WriterHouse, a nonprofit literary center in Charlottesville, Virginia. She is the author of Playing with Dynamite: A Memoir. Her work has appeared in the New York Times (Modern Love), Narrative, Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere.