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?"


Lorna said...

You are SO wise when you're talking to yourself; imagine how great you'll be when you address an audience. Congratulations.

Anonymous said...

"Pure fiction"? "Non-autobiographical fiction"? Ah, the problems we create when we try to label things. I prefer verbs. You write, Patry — wonderfully.

rdl said...

I can picture this perfectly!:D

Dale said...

You are splendid. You'll wow 'em, if you don't practice too much :-)

Love the picture. Portrait of the Artist Contemplating Public Speaking.

Bill Cameron said...

I mutter to myself as I drive around, and my son, from the back seat, inevitably makes a comment like, "The Mayor of Crazy Town is driving again."

I can't really argue with him. As for pure fiction? Um, yeah, I do it all the time. Sure. (Ahem.)

Great pic!

Anonymous said...

Wow, the portrait of the artist as a writer! Wonderful!

Mary said...

What everyone else has said, Patry. You are a gem of a writer. And I love the photo too. :-)

floots said...

sounds like your talk is pretty much written already
this certainly has all you need


Jean said...

Oooh, idly surfing down my blogroll and here it is: the perfect blog post!!! Brilliant, funny, beautifully structured writing. Wise words. Great photo. You'll be wonderful. Dale's probably right: don't practice so much you iron out too much idiosyncratic Patryness.

Kitty said...

Congrats! You are going to be such a star!

Melly said...

Love the pic!
Congrats on the speaking invitation. I would have loved to be there and hear it. You gotta give us the low-down after :)
Now, when I talk to myself, there are rules, and if any one of me breaks them, I'm in big trouble!

Matthew said...

this post made me smile. speaking engagements and the obviousness of actually physically writing words on paper (or screen, or what have you), that is what makes you a writer. it's humorous, yes, but i can feel the truth of it, and that is what makes me smile.

congrats, patry.

Patry Francis said...

lorna: Thanks for the vote of confidence. I need it.

pohanginapete: Thanks. Means a lot coming from you.

r: I bet you can.

dale: What I need to practice is being calm. Portrait of the Artist Contemplating Public Speaking is perfect. Wish I'd thought of it before I put up the post.

bill: It must be an occupational hazard. We writers spend WAY too much time alone.

marja-leena: Thank you.

Mary: Thank you, too.

floots: I would like to keep it just about this short. Don't think I can say more words than that at one time--unless I'm arguing with my family, of course.

jean: thank you so much for your lovely and generous words. They made my day. As far as the idiosyncratic patryness, i've been trying to iron that out for years with no luck.

kitty: thank you dear waitress/writer friend.

melly: that's what I need--rules.
Rule #1: No talking to myself when the kids are in the house.

matt: Thank you. Good to see you here again.

Kay Cooke said...

Congratulations on the invitation!! Wow!!! Hope most of all you really enjoy yourself - at least you have lots of time to let it all percolate!

Taradharma said...

ah, kids have such a way of bringing us back to center, don't they?!?!

I love the self-portrait. The terror will subside and you WILL be cool as a cucumber....(the hypnotherapist in me talking)

Anonymous said...

Hmmm.... wasn't it Stephen King who once said "Fiction is the truth inside the lie.", Patry?

Writing is a journey. How can one possibly journey anywhere - even into the kingdom of words - without packing one's personal baggage of fears, flaws, and deeper magic?

Brenda Clews said...

That's wonderful!! Everything! -self-portrait, talk and you'll be amazing when the time comes too...

paris parfait said...

You'll be terrific! The audience will enjoy your words, both spoken and written. Great photo

Anonymous said...

I've lived in Massachusetts 11 years and never been to the Cape. I think I'll have to go to this, though, just to hear what makes it out of the bathroom.

Very cute, Patry. You're going to do just fine.

Alex S said...

Thank you for your definition of freedom you left for me. You are all too correct! And congratulations on the speaking invite! I sure wish I could go. The bathroom is a perfect place to begin your preparation! The bathroom mirror is also where i prepared to be the next Cyndi Lauper back in 84! (p.s. Would love to read your speech here when you have it ready!)

robin andrea said...

I've wondered about this idea of pure fiction. I don't think such a thing can exist. We already and always bring something to the table each time we sit down with the muse.

The people in your audience are going to have such a treat listening to you. I hope you record it.

Anonymous said...

I think everything's accidently autobiographical. I put a short story on my blog and, after letting it sit for a couple of days, realized it sounded like a more extreme, lonely post.

Patry Francis said...

chiefbiscuit: Thanks. (My problem is I percolate too much!)

tdharma: A hynotherapist? Just what I need...Maybe you can teach me a few self-calming techniques.

anne: perfect quote from King; and your words are wise as well. Thank you.

brenda: thank you. Probably more meditation and less talking in the bathroom mirror would help.

paris: I'll be looking for you when I go to...Spain, is it? (One speaking engagement and I'm planning my international tour!)

robin: so true. In many ways, when we believe we're masked, we reveal more of the truth.

sara: I'm holding you to that! I need to see a friendly face out there.

Alexandra: Oh, I love Cyndi Lauper! Such energy. No wonder you're still a girl who wants to have fun.

popeye: But didn't it feel better to pass the loneliness to a fictional character for a while? I always feel so much lighter when I let one of my characters take on my problems for a while.

Anonymous said...

I'm getting ready to write a post about the importance of cue cards! I just discovered them and they made a big difference during a recent talk this week. My little group was 16 students of counseling who are using my book in a grief and loss class.

I also use a little bach flower rescue rememdy.

Patry Francis said...

colleen: I don't like reading anything from a piece of paper; it makes me feel stilted and nervous, but cue cards are an excellent idea. And I've already ordered my Bach's!

Suzanne said...

WOW! Yay! Yay! Yay!!!!

Nick said...

"Remember, I'm used to serving the coffee at such events, not being seen and oh-my-god actually heard."

Get used to it! Congrats!

Anonymous said...

Okay, when I meet you, you'll need to strike that EXACT pose so I'll know it's you. And I'm with Lorna and everyone else here--you'll wow them. You've wowed us just by writing about thinking about speaking.

the other twisted Patricia,
Tish Cohen

P.S. Definitely send that shot to Germany.

Anonymous said...

:) How exciting about the speaking engagement! You'd made it, girl, if they're bookin' you a YEAR in advance. :)

chuck said...

Conversations with myself: a habit
since age two...not too many speeches lately.

(If I practice a speech, will I get an invitation to speak?)


Anonymous said...

How COOL to hear of your invitation ... and how insightful your realization re: the origins of your writing. If it works, it's because it's true. Even if you make it all up. ;) Write on! D

Sky said...

how i would love to come hear you speak, patry! you will be a smashing success, and flocks of fans will remember where they first saw you! congratulations on your invitation. it has to be thrilling to see these dreams becoming the reality of your life.

so true - no pure fiction. it took me a long time to fully process this fact and to see the wonderful license that fiction offers. it may have been via pat conroy's autobiographical fiction that i truly began to see how various degrees of an author's truth forms the foundation of the piece.

Zhoen said...

I believe that the more fictional the writing is supposed to be, the more the truth forces it's way out.

But that is probably because I can't write fiction, and have had to simply bend biography.

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