Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Book and a Memory, and Another Word About Authenticity

I've been thinking lately (and blogging) about authenticity in writing fiction and just how much of ourselves should go into a book of fiction. The answer is, I think, as much or as little as you want.

I just read a book review about Francisco Goldman's novel, Say Her Name. The book is essentially a memoir - the story of his wife Aura, her childhood and their marriage and her way-too-early death – and yet it is categorized as fiction. This is what the critic said:

Why call it fiction then? At several point Goldman writes about competing narratives, the ways memories conflict and different stories can grow out of the same fact. Maybe Goldman, a former journalist, just could bear the pressure of "the truth," of worrying about anyone's take on Aura but his own. 

It's an interesting gesture, to take something that is nearly all truth and instead of calling it memoir, or creative non-fiction, to label it fiction, as if saying The truth is relative.

This week we celebrated my youngest's birthday, and I took the time to hold her on my lap and tell her one of my favorite stories of my life with her. So much my favorite, that it made its way into my debut novel.

When Some Kind of Normal first came out, I had family and friends rushing through it, seeing if they could find me somewhere in it. They guessed a lot. "Is this scene real?" "Is this the way you think?" "Are you really Babs?"

If you know anything about me, you know I am nothing like Babs. She came as a gift, a person walking through my head fully formed and opinionated and somewhat offensive to me at first.

And yet, there is some of me in there. It's inevitable, because no matter how out there our subject may be - sci-fi, dystopian, historic romance even - we write what we know. How can we not? We write about music that we know, or the kind of potato chips that we see in the store, or the emotions we have felt. We can't write about what we don't know - food we've never even heard of or culture we have never read or experienced.

And as a mom, it was inevitable pieces of my experiences as a mom would make it in the book. Tiny, incremental pieces, but pieces nonetheless.

So here is my admission: this paragraph from Some Kind of Normal is true. The names have been changed, but otherwise... it's me. It's my daughter. It's one of my most precious memories.

Ashley was born screaming.  I think she came out with her mouth open, her eyes scrunched into tearless cries which no amount of bundling could soften until the nurses put her on my chest and I said, “Hi there, baby girl.”  And just like that, she stopped crying.  She looked up at me with wide blue eyes, not even blinking, like she knew my voice from all those months inside me.  The moment they took her away she cried again, until they brought her back.

So happy birthday to my little girl. You give me plenty of material! :)

Now that the birthday celebrations are over, it's time to get myself back to work!


  1. I love that paragraph!! ANd your daughter is so pretty! happy birthday to her:)
    I sprinkle much of myself in my work, how can we help but not to? Memories, and like you said, food choices etc, it's what we know.

  2. Adorable pics, sunny smiles, radiant beauty.

  3. She is absolutely beautiful, and so is that memory!! :-)

  4. What a gorgeous girl!

    I put something completely specific in each one. My family and close friends spot it EVERY time, and I think, at times, it makes Mike uncomfortable, but he tries not to show it...

    I totally just wrote a post on this to be done after ABC's are over... if they ever end...

  5. Wow! You are awesome at portraits! Happy Birthday to your youngest. Yes we do sprinkle ourselves into our writing but, interestingly, as a reader I don't look for the author in the fictional story. So I assume most of the readers of my stuff will not either. But sounds like I could be wrong!

  6. I love that memory and I love that paragraph! What a great gift to give her on her birthday :)

  7. So sweet! I remember that paragraph made me smile when I first read it. ;-)

  8. I remember reading that paragraph and those are some gorgeous photos.

  9. She is gorgeous. She looks like a mini-you. I remember that paragraph.

  10. That beautiful child is a carbon copy of her mother!

    I'm beginning to think it's ok to let a little of real life show and you've been a big help in that. Great post!

  11. I loved that paragraph....well, I loved the whole book. I wondered as I read it how much of it was from your life. :)

    I hope Ashley had a wonderful birthday!!!!!