Readers often ask fiction writers the tiresome question: “Which part of your story is true?”
The correct answer is: “The whole thing.” After all, if a story doesn’t express a Greater Truth, why bother telling it?
That said, I understand the urge to parse a story for “facts.” Coming from a journalism background, I’m sensitive to the reader’s desire for sourcing and verification (to the extent that anything can ever be sourced or verified, given the frailty of human memory and the chasms of misinterpretation into which even the most well-meaning of reporters can fall).
The chasm that can swallow facts (Grand Canyon 2008)
I decided to pull back the curtain just a bit on my forthcoming novel (still untitled), which has, at its center, the lifelong friendship of two women. Their friendship was enabled by their mothers’ friendship, which was based, at least in part, on gardening.
I can share these facts from my life:
- I have a lifelong friend.
- Her mother likes to garden.
- My mother liked to garden.
The facts take us no further
That’s about as far as the facts can take us. I won’t say which of the women in the book is me and which is my friend because I can’t. They are neither of us; they are all of us. My characters embody the traits and habits of scores of people I have encountered over the years.
Nonetheless, to scratch the readerly itch to know what’s “true,” I offer the following annotated passage from my novel, with facts called out.