It’s right there in my author’s note at the back of the book: I’m the daughter of a drug dealer and I wrote a book about the daughter of a drug dealer. After Where did you get the inspiration for this story? this is the most common question that readers and interviewers ask me: Is this book autobiographical? The short answer is no, which tends to leave a lot of people unsatisfied. The long answer is that in some way all my stories are autobiographical, and yet not. The difference between the memoir I’ll never write and the novels I can’t stop writing is all about processing personal experience into fiction. In true writerly fashion, I struggle to describe this process without an appropriate metaphor, and happily, medical science has provided me with one.
In an astounding breakthrough in the early 2000s, Doris Taylor at the Texas Heart Institute began experimenting with decellularizing heart tissue, in hopes of replacing regular organ transplants with organs created especially for the recipient. Taking a donor heart and using common chemical detergents, researchers have successfully scrubbed all the cellular structures of the donor away. What remains looks less like a human body part and more like the ethereal chrysalis of an alien butterfly: white, bloodless, and strangely architectural.
After the heart has been decellularized, it is injected with stem cells from the future recipient and placed into a bioreactor, which functions as the heart’s artificial lungs. There it is allowed to mature into a beating heart that will be a perfect tissue match. When the technique is perfected, likely in the near future, the recipient of this type of transplant will be in no danger of rejecting the organ, and will need no immunosuppressant drugs.
This is also the method I use to turn my life experiences into fiction. First, I take the heart of the thing I have lived, always the heart. Next, I remove all the blood and tissue of my existence, and with it, all of the emotions that I’ve kept stored there. It’s not that emotions aren’t needed–they are–but that my own are not the focus of the story. Once I have stripped all of that away, I can better see the mysteries and the infrastructure of what I’ve lived. I hold the ghost heart in my hands and identify the parts of the experience that I need for the story. Then I submerse the heart into the blood of my character. [Read more…]