Where Do You Get Your Ideas? Introducing Fictional Memoirist Sylvia Petter


I’ve started a series of blogposts both to (1) support other authors and to (2) answer a common question readers ask: Where do you get your ideas?

Here is an introduction to Sylvia Petter, author of ALL THE BEAUTIFUL LIARS, who tells us where she got the ideas for her fictional “memoir.”

“It won’t leave you alone,” her mother said of the story that took Petter 20 years to write. Memoirists are often afraid of hurting their families by writing about their memories, but Petter’s mother gave her permission: “We´re all dead now. Do what you like with the family history.”

That permission was the gift that allowed Petter to probe her family history in post-World War II Central Europe, creating her fictional “memoir” out of her scraps of family history. Her German mother and her Austrian father seemed to be “ordinary people who simply ended up on the wrong side of history,” but Petter had questions. Was the sleazy uncle exiled to Spain a crook or a hero of the anti-Nazi resistance? Why did her father insist his brother was dead? And was her cousin in East Germany really a Stasi agent?

The result is a fictional memoir that went through several iterations and titles. First it was called CUTLET, miscellaneous pieces Petter thought of as “hamming it up.” After that she called the memoir TILLANDSIA, after a plant whose roots live in air and which Petter likens to tumbleweed. Finally, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, many secrets were exposed. Then Petter realized that “a generation had kept silent or lied to protect others out of shame.” Thus ALL THE BEAUTIFUL LIARS became the title of Petter’s memoir (UK, Lightning Books).

Sylvia Petter, author of ALL THE BEAUTIFUL LIARS

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