The Augustus Family Trilogy by Tamara Merrill

Writing The Augustus Trilogy: How and Why

How and why I wrote the Augustus Family Trilogy seems to be fascinating to many readers. When I appear at book clubs and events the first question asked is always, how did you get the idea for this story? Then they ask if it is true and if it is based on people I know? The last question someone always asks is, when they make the movie who do you want to see cast for the leads?

Allow me to answer in order. About 35 years ago, I was sitting in a boring MBA class, doodling on my notebook. (Doodling is something I always do. Believe it or not it keeps me focused.) The professor held up an image from an old LOOK magazine ad and asked what we thought it was advertising.

The picture showed an elderly, distinguished man standing at his desk polishing a pair of wire rimmed glasses. A cityscape was framed in the window behind him. He was speaking very seriously to a young, well-dress  man. I knew the story instantly. Not the whole story but the bones of the whole thing. If you’ve read Family Lies, you probably recognize that image as the opening scene with Walter Augustus and his grandson Michael.

The story was that easy and that hard. I wrote a few chapters quickly, but life happened – I was a single mother – with teenagers and a demanding job. I put the story aside. I didn’t believe that I had time to write a novel. It nagged at me and sometimes I’d write a few notes in my journal or add a few pages to the pile I had saved in my cardboard file box. (I still have that box.  It’s glossy, black and white and the handwritten pages inside are special to me.)

After my husband, Richard, died I decided I really wanted to finally write a novel instead of short stories. The Augustus family was ready and willing to talk to me. They became as real to me over the next three years as anyone else I know. I had a story I wanted to tell, their story.

Family dynamics fascinate me. I explored the stories that the family tells and re-tells until they are considered the truth.  How does each generation react? How does the “truth” change over time?  Does it hurt or is it perhaps safer (better) to tell the lies?  Can you live an entire life built on a lie?

Are family secrets more important than the truth? Is a stable marriage more important than a happy one? What about love? Does it matter where you find it? Can one endure a life based on secrets?

These and other questions made the writing of FAMILY LIES ,  FAMILY MATTERS, and FAMILY MYTHS fun for me. After all, the characters simply took over and told me what to write. I found that I love this family in all their dysfunction they fascinate me still and sometimes I actually think I find an answer to at least one of my questions!

Question two, are the characters  based on real people. No, although as I’ve said the Augustus family is very real to me. I think it is impossible to write without borrowing from your own experience so in that way, bits and pieces of every character have come from my experiences, interactions, and from stories I’ve been told. When I speak to groups in my hometown, someone always comes up to me and whispers, “Is Sylvia based on ***?” I don’t know the woman they mention but I think I’d like to meet her and see why her name comes up so often.

And finally, I don’t care who plays the parts in the movie, except I’d like to see Matthew McConaughey as Sam Augustus. Of course, I’d like to see Matthew anywhere, anytime.

By way, I have no idea what that magazine ad was advertising. But I’m glad it introduced me to Walter Augustus and his family.



Leave a Reply