By Leslie Lindsay
Emotionally detailed and tense, NO WAY HOME is a coming-of-age memoir of a fugitive family on the run from the FBI told from the POV of the youngest daughter. Here, we chat about her journey to publication, how once you write it you can never ‘un-write’ it, and how she’s back in the U.K. living out of that iconic red suitcase once again.
Secrets are the stuff of memoir and NO WAY HOME is stuffed to the gills with them. Tyler Wetherall writes with beautiful prose and raw honesty about what it was like being born into a ‘fugitive family.’ When she’s born, in 1983, the ‘men in black’ were already living on the family’s California property in a small shack. They watched every move, every coming and going of the family because her father, who goes by series of aliases, but whose given name is Ben, was already a criminal.
Tyler doesn’t know her family’s real surname until she is nine years old. She doesn’t know the reason the family had moved thirteen times in her short life. She has no idea that her dad is actually a criminal, or what he’s done.
We know it’s something deplorable, but it’s not revealed until later. As a young child, Tyler and her older siblings live in various places in Europe. They ski in the Swiss Alps. They scuba dive in St. Lucia, they have a lovely little villa in the same town Picasso once lived in France. They have homes in Portugal and England. The kids attend boarding school. In some ways, it seemed as though they were army brats with every advantage at their fingertips.
But there are also clandestine phone calls with her father from the depths of a phone booth in the woods. Hidden cell phones in attics. Scotland Yard shows up at their home.
Please join me in conversation with Tyler Wetherall.
Leslie Lindsay: Tyler! Welcome. I found your story so enthralling, yet so devastating. I wanted everything to turn out for the best. Mostly, it does. That’s what I think readers want to know: is the author okay? Is everyone okay? Had things turned out differently, would you still have written it?
Tyler Wetherall: Everyone is okay. More than okay! I think it’s a testimony to the strength of our family and the support our parents always gave us that despite our unconventional upbringing it turned out fine. My sister is a doctor, my brother is a lawyer, and, well, I’m the most vagrant of the bunch as a roving writer. It’s hard to imagine it turning out differently and whether I would have still written it, because that involves imagining myself as a different person. I am the person I am today because of the sequence of events and decisions that led me here.
L.L.: Memoir is such a fickle form. It’s not told in a vacuum. There are other people—characters—who are involved. At one point in the narrative, it appears as if you’re seeking approval or consent to tell this story. Your mom said something along the lines of, ‘it’s only one version of the truth, anyway,’ and your father said, ‘go ahead, tell it all.’ Of course, there are your siblings and the other fugitives involved…how does a memoirist reconcile the various ‘voices’ and write anyway?
Tyler Wetherall: Even within ourselves we carry many versions of the past. Our relationship to the past changes as we grow, and stories we might have once told about our lives shift to more closely represent who we imagine ourselves to be in any given moment. And that’s true for everyone in our lives. The process of plaiting this into a singular narrative is flawed; it cannot fully represent the web of experience that makes up the past. It can only be one story. I tried to weave some of this into NO WAY HOME, showing where my memory conflicted with my sisters, or saying when I adopted someone else’s memories because they seemed more reliable than my own. I hope in this way the reader might experience the story as something closer to the complexities and contradictions of the lived experience.
Seeking permission from my family was incredibly important to me, and throughout the process of writing I was trying to do this in a way that would cause the least amount of heartache.
L.L.: Can you talk a little about your road to publication? Early drafts, securing an agent, going out on submission, etc.?
Tyler Wetherall: It’s been a very long road. The book began as a biography of my dad. He had recently got out of prison and he was looking for a ghostwriter to tell his story. At the time, I was 24 and working as a magazine journalist in London, but I didn’t want someone else to tell our story. I quit my job and flew out to LA to begin the process of interviewing him for the book. I soon realized that I didn’t want to write another book about a man’s misadventures with the women and children sidelined to sentimental subplots; I needed to tell it as a daughter who had lived through it. At that point I called it a novel. I was very reluctant to write a memoir, scared of causing any pain, but it was also because I was trying to keep the truth at arm’s length, which never works. After finding an agent in New York – the completely brilliant Emma Parry at Janklow & Nesbit – I started to rework it as a memoir, and the story fell into place.
L.L.: And back to the story. In many ways, your early years were quite magical. You traveled extensively and were able to see and do so much—more than most adults ever experience—do you see that as a bit of a gift?
Tyler Wetherall: I feel incredibly lucky. In between the anxiety of moving and the threat of Dad’s incarceration, we were a happy family. I think that’s what makes it tragic when it falls apart. To this day, you can drop me in any part of the world and I’ll figure out how to get by, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have been that way without those years of traveling during my childhood. I’m grateful for that.
L.L.: I was quite intrigued with your mother and father and their family of origin. Your mother left home at sixteen to pursue a modeling career and to get married. Your father was from a New York Jewish family and shared details about his criminal behavior with them. I am astonished. In what ways do you suppose their youth shaped this fugitive lifestyle? Or, did it?
Tyler Wetherall: I don’t think Dad was naturally suited to the fugitive lifestyle; he adapted to it. He likes to travel and he has a sense of adventure, which he shared with us, but his priorities are the relationships with the people he loves. Leaving family and friends was hard for them both. My mum spent much of her youth moving house for a variety of reasons – her parents were stationed in Calcutta after the war – so I think she was better suited to starting again in a new place. But I don’t think it was a lifestyle either of them would have chosen. Not being able to share your real identity and always being fearful of apprehension is a difficult state to live peacefully in.
L.L.: Despite your father’s crimes, you had a bit of a ‘wild’ spurt during your teenage years. Can you talk about that, please and if you think it was typical teenage rebellion or related more directly to your father’s activities?
Tyler Wetherall: It’s hard to know. Drugs never held the taboo for me that they might have for other teenagers, but there was definitely an element of typical teenage rebellion: shaving my head, non-stop Nirvana and underage everything. I was also willful and curious and determined to demonstrate that I was brave, and that manifested itself at times as being reckless. I don’t regret that moment though; I learned a lot and it set me in good stead for the future.
“Wetherall has written a luminous memoir that no one who reads it will soon forget… She conveys her exceptional yet familiar experiences in language that makes the reader stop and savor… Witty and eloquent.”
—The Washington Post
L.L.: What advice might you give someone who wants to write about family? Especially when less-than-stellar moments are involved?
Tyler Wetherall: Firstly, I think it’s important to get everything on the page without thinking about the repercussions or who will read it or what they will say. If you listen to the voices that condemn what you’re doing, you’ll never get anything written. At that point you know what you’re working with and can approach the story with more consideration. Compassion and empathy are incredibly important. You’re not venting; you’re trying to understand the past and what it means to you and those around you. Also, when you’re nearing publication, it’s important to remember that once it’s out there it can’t be undone, so if there are details you balk at, think closely about whether they’re necessary to the story at large.
L.L: Is there anything obsessing you these days? What keeps you up at night? It doesn’t have to be literary.
Tyler Wetherall: I’ve just started work on my second book – a novel – and the fear I can’t do it again certainly keeps me up at night! I’m also working on a pilot. Between the two I spend a lot of time spiraling down so-called research tangents.
L.L.: What might I have forgotten to ask, but should have? Maybe what your weekend plans are, if you’re working on something new? Your favorite guilty pleasure…or something related to the book.
Tyler Wetherall: I’m currently back in the UK to see my family and friends (and go to the pub!), and I’m living out of the same giant red suitcase that features in the very first sentence of my book.
L.L.: Tyler, it’s been such a pleasure. Thank you for sharing this story.
Tyler Wetherall: Thank you for reading.
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of NO WAY HOME, please visit:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tyler Wetherall is the author of No Way Home: A Memoir of Life on the Run (St. Martin’s Press; on-sale April 3, 2018). She is a freelance writer living and working in New York City. She has written for The Guardian, The Times, and The Irish Independent. Her short fiction has been published in The Gettysburg Review and others.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author images courtesy of St. Martin’s Press and used with permission.]