I've begun researching a new book, in which the main conflict plays out around an open adoption. I don't know jack about adoption, which is very inconvenient, but there I am. A friend introduced me to a LCSW I'll call Pam, who was the executive director of an adoption agency in town. She agreed to meet me for coffee and answer a few questions.
I wished to understand the details surrounding the adoption process from the social worker's POV, which is of most interest to me. I asked Pam if the agency she worked for would allow the equivalent of a "ride-along" when counseling potential adoptive parents. She bristled. No. Much too private.
I had anticipated that response, but still felt as if a door had closed, gently but firmly on my nose. Here was a world to which I could not gain access. I understand why, of course. Of COURSE I understand. If I were dealing with such personal issues as birth, attachment and loss I wouldn't want a stranger looking on, either. Hell, I wouldn't want a stranger looking on if I was closing a deal on a house. It was cheeky of me to ask, but I had to. That's my job.
But Pam's reaction made me wonder if this world was closed to an outsider novelist as well as a stranger. By that I mean, would adoption "insiders" consider it appropriate for an outsider to create a fiction around intimacies I am not welcome to observe?
We all know that authors write about experiences they cannot inhabit all the time. I create male characters and rather presumptuously give them backstories and put words in their mouths. White people write about black people, and men write about childbirth. And I doubt Katherine Dunn ever geeked a chicken, but she sure conjured for me a visceral, if vicarious experience as I read Geek Love.
I guess I'm asking if I'm the "right" person to write a novel about adoption when I'm not personally connected to such a personal subject. Will the adoption community take issue?
After I figure out the answer, I'm going to ask why it would matter if they did.