Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Last week, I received an offer to speak at a "Breakfast With the Author" sponsored by the the Cape Cod Writers Center, a distinguished group that has hosted the likes of Mary Higgins Clark, David McCullough and Marge Piercy at various events in the past. This summer, their annual conference will feature Dennis Lehane; former poet laureate Ted Kooser has also been scheduled for an appearance. (Anyone planning to be on Cape Cod in August, please check their Web site.)
Needless to say, I'm excited. And terrified. (See photograph.) Remember, I'm used to serving the coffee at such events, not being seen and oh-my-god actually heard.
Though it's a year away,I decided I had no time to lose; and this morning I started practicing my talk in the bathroom mirror.
"There are two kinds of fiction writers," I said to the amiable crowd.
The polite silence in my sleeping household urged me to continue.
"Those who write veiled stories about themselves," I said. (Artful pause.) "And those who create pure fiction, revelling in the opportunity to make things up."
I'm a card-carrying member of the second group, and was about to tell my cordial audience exactly that when I caught sight of the face in the mirror. She was shaking her head vehemently.
"Pure fiction?" she asked skeptically. "Do you really thing that exists?"
Of course, I was flummoxed. I hadn't even gotten three sentences out, and this upstart was already questioning my writerly wisdom.
I paused again (this time less artfully) poised to tell the rude questioner just what I thought of her.
But then, I realized she was right. I may not have ever composed a brilliant violin concerto, or committed a murder, or caused three men to fall desperately in love with me at one time as various characters in my novel have done, but that doesn't mean my fictional creations don't share my obsessions, my fears, my most closely held beliefs on some level that is deeper--far deeper--than the "facts" of my life reveal. How else could I explain the way those same obsessions had worked their way into every story I attempt to write?
I stare in the mirror, clear my throat, and prepare to start again. "Is there really such a thing as non-autobiographical fiction?"
The crowd sips their coffee, ready to hear more. But just then my daughter calls out, "Hey Mom, what's going on? Are you talking to yourself up there?"