Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Truth

Jo Knowles just blogged at engchat about a topic that's been on my mind since Try Not to Breathe came out--since before it came out, actually. Even though people know that novelists are writing fiction, i.e., stories that are not literally true, we seem to have a great hunger to know how much of a novel is based on true-life experience. As a reader, I know that hunger; I've felt it myself. We ask questions such as, This person who writes about the Gobi desert so evocatively ... has she ever really been there? And Jo points out another reason readers may be curious: because if the book tells the story of a problem they've lived through, they feel a connection with the teller of that story and want to know, Can I trust this connection? Is it real?

Try Not to Breathe is the story of a boy's recovery from a suicide attempt, and his friendship with a girl who is seeking answers about her father's suicide. It is not my--or anyone's--literal life story. But the book was informed by my experiences living in this world, as well as by research. I made every word of the book as true and authentic as I could. Not at the surface level, with biographical facts about real people. But true on a deeper level. I used imaginary characters and an invented plotline to convey things I know and feel to be true, emotionally true, about life.

I suspect that some people who find this book may read it because they are thinking about, or have thought about, suicide. And I urge anyone thinking that way to reach out for help, at once. (One source of help:  National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-TALK).)

For me, Try Not to Breathe is more about life and hope than anything else. That's the reality.

4 comments:

  1. As a reader, I also wonder if the author has some experience with what he/she has written. As writers we bring truth as we know it to our pieces. At times, when I am at my most vulnerable, I worry that the reader will equate what I write to me. I try hard to fight this fear, because it can hinder what needs to come out to make the piece shine.

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    1. There are times my characters say and do things that are the complete opposite of what I think or would do. And there are other times their beliefs or feelings are borrowed from me. Readers can never be sure!

      I find that worrying about what anyone else will think of a book is deadly to the writing process. Dance like nobody's watching ...

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  2. I'm afraid people are going to think I was abused or that I'm in an abusive relationship when they read The Breakaway coming out in May. But maybe I'm just being paranoid. The truth is, I've never been in that sort of situation and hope I never am. I've dealt with suicidal stuff before, but I've never dared write about it. One day I will. I'm really interested to read both your books. I got your bookmarks. Thank you so much. :)

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    1. It's tempting to see the main character as a stand-in for the author. But art is deliberately shaped to produce a certain effect or theme, and we take liberties with the literal. :-)

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