I received my first writing award in the second grade at a State-level competition. We were asked to write an essay explaining who we would choose to have lunch with and why, if it could be any person living or dead. Seven- and eight-year-olds all around me wrote of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, Mother Teresa and Princess Diana. I chose John Stamos, who at the time starred as Uncle Jesse on Full House, and I was rewarded for it. My obsession with pop culture had been validated! So why wouldn’t my first novel take the same approach?
When I first started writing Abigail Phelps, the idea was simple: merge the fictional world I am going to create with real people, places, and events the readers will already know. Truthfully, maybe I was just being lazy initially. Suddenly, I had a book idea for which I only had to do half the work! But the reality of it became something else entirely.
Pop Culture + Bethany Turner + Obsession-Level Project = New Levels of Insanity!
Suddenly it wasn’t just, “Okay, what if Abby has a relationship with John F. Kennedy Jr.?” Instead it was, “What if the story begins with Abby being committed to a mental institution and she claims Senator Ted Kennedy was the person who had her institutionalized?” But, because I can never leave well enough alone, that turned into, “And what if Abby’s psychiatrist diagnoses her as delusional?”
But what if there’s more truth to the “delusions” than her psychiatrist believes?
What if the psychiatrist embarks on a fact-finding mission and discovers he’s had it all wrong for years?
And what if, as the psychiatrist discovers the truth, the reader can’t help but suddenly question what they have always known to be the truth?
And suddenly, I was in full-on cultural experimentation mode! I wanted to see if I could paint such a vivid, believable snapshot of a life, intermingled with people and events from the public consciousness, that the reader would never again watch Torvill and Dean perform Bolero, or even hear those well-known drum beats, without picturing Abigail Phelps. If the reader hears a certain Billy Joel song or two, I want them to blush because of Abigail memories with which they now associate the song. And JFK Jr.? Well, I want Abigail Phelps to be part of the Kennedy legacy. And it doesn’t matter that you know she’s not real, and it doesn’t matter that you know what really happened, because the mind is a powerful thing, and reality is in the eye of the beholder.
Sometimes it’s small - we’ll convince ourselves we possess a talent that we truly don’t, or we’ll tell ourselves so-and-so was to blame when we really need to shoulder the blame ourselves. Sometimes it’s a little bigger - the company owes me this money, it’s not stealing because they’ve been ripping me off for years. And sometimes it’s huge - he’s a good guy and it’s my fault he hit me, or if I just take these pills, the pain will go away.
We all lie to ourselves. We all get a little bit delusional. We each behold our own vision of our reality. And isn’t that why we read anyway? Fiction is a momentary escape from our own reality, and even self-help books often trick us into believing we can be something that we can’t or shouldn’t be. Whether you get lost in a romance, and wish things like that would be whispered to you during your most intimate moments, or you read a history book to reflect on a simpler time, you’re escaping.
And there’s nothing wrong with that. Life is stressful but reading shouldn’t be. We want to get lost, and we want to momentarily forget the assignment which is due, or the fight we had, or the bill we can’t pay. And even though we know that our reality will be there waiting for us when we look up from the page, we find comfort in temporarily focusing on someone else’s problems, someone else’s reality.
I started with a small, pop culture obsession-fueled idea which took on a life of its own. And hopefully it will take on an individualized life of its own for each reader. Want to escape with romance? You got it. History? Check. Extreme happiness and the lowest of lows? Absolutely.
Reality is in the eye of the beholder. Make it what you wish.
Bethany is the author of the Abigail Phelps series, check out her books on Amazon by clicking the images below: