Writing Helen Gardner’s Story

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You might think it would be easier to write about the life of your own relative than a total stranger. Actually, it is much harder. Among the challenges are maintaining an objective perspective and not falling into the too-personal or too-emotional, while still keeping the writing personal enough for readers to be able to identify with both narrator and subject.

Writing Helen Gardner’s biography contains some special difficulties for me. It’s as though I had an emotional relationship with an imaginary person. I didn’t know Gardner in person, so she was a total stranger in that way. But I knew her from her devastating effects on my mother, which made Gardner an intimate who was present in my daily life when I was growing up.

The two perspectives are in conflict–the objective and the subjective– so it has been a long struggle to find my voice and just the right tone. Unfortunately, this is not something that once found stays with you. You have to constantly work to maintain the balanced perspective as you write.

This is why I have two books in me. One is the biography of Gardner’s silent film career and life, and the other is a memoir about my personal relationship with her image. It appears that the biography will come first. Stay tuned . . .

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