Fear of Lying: The Truth in my Fiction

“…not only does Isadora Wing, like Erica Jong, write poetry but she writes Ms. Jong’s poetry, two samples of which are in this book.”

-John Updike, on Erica Jong’s thinly veiled auto-biographical protagonist in Fear of Flying

 

 A long while back my ex-husband asked me what the subject of my work in progress was.

I thought for a moment. “Well, I guess it’s about my life.”

“Your life? Isn’t that a little presumptuous?”

“I think it would be presumptuous for someone else to write about my life,” I told him.

“I mean, aren’t you too young for that? Don’t people write about their lives at the end of them?”

But before I could say anything more, my younger son piped in, “How could you write a book at the end of your life? Wouldn’t you be dead?”

Most writers write about their lives. Some admit to it, and that is called nonfiction. Some don’t, and they produce novels.

Now, I don’t mean that the novel I was writing at the time, or any other auto-biographical novel¸ is exactly about me. That’s the beauty of a novel. But I drew on myself and my experiences. I couldn’t help it. I know myself so well, and I’ve had such interesting experiences. It’s like God ordained that I write it all down. (Okay – that sounded presumptuous – but it really felt like that. It was a calling to the page.)

But the problem was what to admit to.

Sometime in the future when my novel comes out (not MELT – that one is based on someone else) and you read it, if there’s something shocking, it didn’t really happen.

If you know me and you think you recognize someone in the book, you’re wrong.

Have I covered myself enough?

The truth fascinates me so much that I can’t ignore it. Every moment of my life is a study in human nature. If I didn’t write about myself, I’d have to follow someone else around, because you can’t make this stuff up. (Although I did dream The Girl Next Door.) Truth is stranger than fiction, but it’s so strange that we often have to label it fiction. I think in fact that the deepest truths are in fiction. Does that make sense?

Erica Jong is so obviously Isadora Wing that I could tell after reading the opening and then scanning her bio on the back cover. They went to the same schools, they both married Asian men.

Another funny thing (if you find any of this funny) is that I always felt that the novel I was writing when I had the above conversation is my generation’s Fear of Flying. I thought this without knowing anything about Fear of Flying and certainly never having read it. I just had this certainty in my heart. Then, when I came across Fear of Flying at Goodwill (they always have an excellent book selection, which I don’t know is a good or bad sign for literature) I of course picked it up and started reading it right there, leaning against a clothes rack. Yes! It is, as I suspected from the title, a coming of age story about a woman. It is fearless (despite the title) and fresh, as John Updike wrote in his review, and even though it is now dated and we can laugh at some of the terms (there are analysts everywhere, for example), the wit and ideas Ms. Jong put forth are so honest that the book remains relevant all these years later. Her theme of searching for self is timeless, and carried through in my novel as well.

Anyway, the point I wanted to make for today is that good fiction always contains truth, and that truth of course comes from the writer’s heart. So whether or not we realize it (or admit it) we authors have all put something of ourselves into our novels. Unless we’ve written work for hire. Or Twilight.

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*A version of this post was originally published in my previous blog in 2012

 

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