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I would be an excellent liar. Not of the small, occasional-lie type, but of the grand, that-story-is-so-amazing-she-couldn’t-possibly-have-made-it-up type. After all, intricate plots and multi-faceted characters are my strength as a writer, and if you wanted to turn a small country’s propaganda machine over to me, I know I could do you proud.
That is why I almost never lie. Falsehoods scare me. And, in the way of those who abhor people who flaunt the very faults they work so hard to control, I hate liars. I am particularity outraged by grandiose, habitual liars who create a make-believe world and foist it on others as truth. How dare they?
You probably already know what I think of our president, so I won’t go there.
Yet, there are two areas where lies and reality do blur for me. One is one right here in my blogs. The other is in my books.
I write my blogs under my own name and in first person, as though I am presenting you with hard facts. And I often am. But I view my posts as a creative endeavor, too, and I allow myself a little poetic license to make a point. Particulars can be omitted, events can be exaggerated, and timing can be altered to provide a narrative that is more succinct and entertaining. I want you start the post, I want you to finish it, and I want you to understand what I am trying to say. So reality gets a little air brushing. I figure that you are fine with it.
I write my books as fiction, and they mostly are. Like many writers, though, I have used my own experiences to craft parts of my stories. The Zeitman family looks a lot like my own, at least on the surface, and some odd details, like the family’s favorite meal of eggplant parmesan, were lifted directly out of my own life. I mean, why bother making up another entree?
I’m now finishing my first rewrite of book six (and last) in the Zeitman family stories, and am having to revisit some of the events I borrowed from my own life and then bent and shaped to meet the needs of my novels. I’m discovering something interesting. My own real memories have become shaded by the altered version that I’ve told so many times in my books. Yikes.
So here is the truth.
June 15, 1984 at 4:17 a.m. I gave birth to my first child.
About a month earlier (not the night before), I had a strange experience while falling asleep. I felt and kind of heard what appeared to be my baby’s thoughts. It lasted a few seconds. It was very odd. I have never experienced anything like it again. I have no way of knowing whether it was real or imagined.
I did make my first presentation to the president of my company the day I went into labor, and he did make an uncomfortable joke about how having sex sets off childbirth. He was right, sexual arousal releases oxytocin, a hormone that does a lot of things, including induce labor. I knew what he was talking about at the time he said it, but was willing to bet that most of the men in the room did not, even though of course they laughed like they did.
There was no gathering in the break room after the presentation, and no horrible joke told about how a busload of children of color going off a bridge “was a start”. That joke was told by a geologist at another function some months later. I was every bit as stunned and horrified as my character, and made the same attempt at an objection that she did. I got the same reaction. Everyone acted like I’d farted loudly and looked away and said nothing. This was 1984.
Thirty-three years ago I experienced one of the most significant days in my life. Yet the events of it now blend into the day Lola Zeitman gave birth to Zane. I feel like I have lost something of my own, and telling you the truth is my way of trying to regain it.
I also have a better understanding of why lies scare me and why I work so hard to avoid them. Our memories are tied to the truth. The liar, and those who hear the lie, find their recollections begin to blur, and after awhile, there is no true memory. What a horrible thing to lose.
Unless, of course, there are tapes. I used to think that the idea of having videotapes of anything and everything was the very definition of an Orwellian nightmare. Now, I wonder if a recording of an event isn’t the only way to preserve it, unshaded by forgetfulness and wishful thinking and pride.
Maybe the universe is keeping a video of my whole life; the good and bad and the embarrassing and the exhilarating. Wouldn’t that be nice? Maybe I could get to watch those tapes some day, and relive each moment the way it really happened.
I like the idea. Lordy, I hope there are tapes.
Shortly after I published my first novel, x0, I was surprised by this question. “Did you let family members read your book before you published it?” Of course I did. What kind of question is that, I thought. I mean, maybe if I wrote certain kinds of books then no, but ….
I realize that I am lucky that my family is fairly open minded and mature and I was able to rely on my husband, my sister, my three children, a cousin and a handful of friends for encouragement and plot hole hunting before I ever sent my first manuscript off to a professional editor. I couldn’t, or maybe wouldn’t, have done it without them.
Now that I’m in the home stretch of putting my fifth novel, d4, out on kindle, the question makes a lot more sense to me. I am lucky in that I didn’t have to avoid the obvious problems caused by dysfunctional friends and relatives sabotaging my efforts, but I have learned how even the best of loved ones don’t always make the best of beta readers.
For starters, those close to you can be too encouraging. If they truly care about you, they will be so proud of your work that you may be lulled into not giving it the harsh scrutiny that it needs. It is a delicate balance between letting loved ones help you be confident and letting them convince you that every odd phrase you produce is golden.
If one is persistent about this writing thing, like I turned out to be, one is also likely to wear people down. One book was fun to read. The second less so. By the time you send your fifth book off to them, at least some of these caring souls will have decided they are not willing to drop everything yet again to meet your deadline. Expect people close to you to avoid your phone calls and ignore your text messages. It can be a little painful all around.
I discovered that those who remain enthused can cause other problems when they go recruiting for you. With this latest book I had a couple of family members talk others into reading, and the coerced aren’t always so helpful. Yes the old high school friend did have a great background in investing, which was useful for a beta reader of d4. However, as he pointed in in his critique, he rather hates books about paranormal abilities and therefore a novel about the havoc wrecked on the stock market by a clairvoyant didn’t exactly interest him. The feedback went downhill from there and ended with him asking why I bothered to write books anyway.
Good question. Among the many answers is the truth that writing novels has been a journey of growth for me. Just the technical abilities I’ve acquired have made this well worth the effort, but the personal growth that has come from handling bad reviews and gushing fans (yes, I do have some) and the self-discipline needed to make it all happen — well, that eclipses the factual knowledge. Yes, some of that personal growth has come from letting those closest to me be part of the process. Good, bad, or indifferent, my family and friends have been a facet of my journey. I’m glad that I included them, because the journey so far has been quite good.
(Visit my post Time Traveler Looking for a Good Time to read about my strategy for thanking beta readers, and check out my post on whether strangers make the perfect beta readers instead. Also please drop by the Facebook page of Your Beautiful Life and give them a like for the great image used above.)