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I just spent a few days with a novelist who had to keep yelling “SHE ISN’T ME” about the main character in her latest book. Of course it’s her. When publishing, she did put the word “fiction” on it so we had to back down. We have to honor — as friends and literary lovers — that she says the book isn’t her life story. I am not going to know who she was talking about when she wrote about a sexual encounter in the Dean’s office in college. (The idea of it excited me, by the by.)
Who WHO was it? Maybe Louis had the gumption, maybe Mike. Finally, one night, gone on buttery chardonnay, my friend blurted “memoir” instead of novel. I had her dead-to-rights and she knew it. My form of Rendition began.
Within 8 minutes, (I used a kitchen towel and Diet Coke) I’d broken through her little “fiction” to the “memoir” and found she did it on the Dean’s oriental with Martin the TA. I was appalled. Martin looked like Gene Wilder and my friend was in need of an A in Shakespeare. Our friendship has not been the same since.
Own what you’ve lived or use your imagination to build a world in which the reader could live. Spin something into something larger or spend some time on earth before you race to tell your “story.” Know why you do what you do. Do it well. Contribute higher not just more.
I knew who my friend’s heroine in her novel was: I wish she had called it a memoir, given herself credit for a life well-lived and made up something for a story later.