A novel experience
Published: September 3, 2012
For best-selling author Lee Woodruff, the hard part of writing another book is finding the time. We talked about her latest, a novel, by phone while she was on the road home from a family trip. Early the next day, she was on “CBS This Morning” with a feature report about a retreat center for women veterans.
Besides being a writer and CBS contributor, Lee is the mother of four and co-founder with her husband of the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which raises funds to assist wounded military members and their families. Lee also travels and speaks around the country on behalf of veteran and caregiver issues.
“Those We Love Most,” available Sept. 11, is her first work of fiction. The story begins with tragedy and follows members of a family as they respond to their grief, but Lee said neither the book nor her characters are defined by the loss.
“It’s really about what happens in the aftermath,” she said. “I like reading books that deal with hard issues, because I feel like that’s the way life really is and not how we wish it would be. Telling those stories and going through them connects people and helps them understand that you can overcome these things.”
Her first two books contain stories from her own life. “In An Instant,” co-written with her husband, Bob, follows the couple’s journey after Bob’s severe injury from an improvised explosive device while he was covering the Iraq War for ABC News in 2006. It became a New York Times bestseller. “Perfectly Imperfect” is a collection of Lee’s essays about life and family.
Writing fiction, she said, was even more difficult than telling those stories.
“With the story of my life, the facts are the facts,” she said. “You can take some latitude here and there. I can give myself a higher IQ and a bigger bust, but the story is the story and I have to stick to it, because there are plenty of people who would call foul on me.”
In fiction, she said, anything can happen.
“You are creating this out of nothing. You take strands of different things that you know and weave them together and create these characters. You can make them do or say anything, but the obligation is to make it real.”
Like the stories of her own life, Lee’s novel is about resilience.
“Resilience is being able to count your blessings, even in the face of something really dark and difficult,” she said. “It’s not letting the disappointment and the difficult things in life define you. You never get over some things, but you will get through them.”
Part of that process, she said is shaped by events, and part is shaped by choices. These things, she said, are two sides of the same coin.
“In some ways they are equally important. How do you respond viscerally in the moment when a bad thing happens, and do you do the right thing when you’re given a choice?”
Talking about the themes woven into her books, it’s hard to tell whether she’s talking about fact or fiction. Lee admits that her own experiences spilled naturally into the novel.
“I can totally see myself throughout this in various ways. I understood a lot of those emotions, so I could write them, but none of those characters is me.”
Lee has developed relationships with many military families through her work with the Woodruff Foundation, a part of her life that emerges in the book when one of her characters joins the Army.
“It was a perfect answer for (the character) for a lot of reasons. It was a noble thing to do ... a departure from what other kids around him were doing and allowed him to escape the constraints of his family,” she explained.
“Selfishly, it gave me a reason in all my talking about the book to talk about our troops ... so that I can remind people that they are still serving.”
Lee said she hopes more fiction is in her future.
“I feel like I have a whole bunch of ideas just waiting.”
Waiting for an opening in Lee Woodruff’s busy schedule.
For more about "Those We Love Most," see Lee Woodruff's blog.