The process, the sort of chronological order of how I developed the novel, was basically I had this idea of this legend and then I understood that it was going to be about these two old men bickering and that there was going to be—I had this whole storyline about Don Fidencio living with his daughter, having the mini stroke, the minor stroke, and that she actually places him in the nursing home, which actually, it does happen but there was a lead-up to this. And so this was the direction I was headed in and this was probably, oh, 2002, 2003, and so I’m trying to understand this and I’m talking to people and I’m doing sort of research as much as I can by reading and looking at films and such.
And in October 2004, my 90-year-old father falls, breaks his hip, and ends up in a nursing home and spends the next three years of his life in two different nursing homes and then a couple of hospitals, extended hospital visits interspersed there.…It was probably the most difficult thing about writing this novel, in the sense that I understood where I wanted it to go but I also understood that at this very definitive point, my personal life had intersected with a narrative. And in most cases, when you’re writing a piece of fiction, you’re lucky enough to have that distance and that perspective to be able to look back and understand what it means. And in this case, I didn’t have that. I was living it as I was writing it.
And so the challenge was to recount this as honestly and as objectively as I could and not be drawn into it too emotionally, though personally I was, obviously, and it was just a very trying time for my family, those three years. So how could I write about this objectively with enough distance, and part of that was for the novel but part of it was also to just portray what this is about in its most unfiltered way, to let people understand what that’s about.
I think that part of the other struggle I had was that I understood that my father didn’t have very long to go, on some level. He was relatively healthy for a 90-plus-year-old man. He didn’t have any strength in his legs. That was the main problem after he had broken his hip and healed from that. He just never regained the power to walk on his own. But I understood on some level that he didn’t have much time left and there was a part of me that, I think, couldn’t finish the novel until I understood if he was going to get out or not, though on some real primal level, I think I knew that that wasn’t going to happen and so it was a struggle—hopefully, one I won’t have to go through again, but it was definitely a challenge.
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