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    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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You Are My Love and My Life, You Are My Inspiration

A professional acquaintance asked me to look at a novel a few weeks ago. Sure, I chirped. Ug, I thought. The novel began with an author’s note that I think was meant to create an air of mystery. It said the story might be true, or  it might not. My reaction to the note: who gives a shit? I mean, it’s work of fiction, right? If you want to tell me it’s based on a true story, tell me. If you say it’s all made up, I automatically think it’s not.What is your expectation when you read a novel. My feeling is that whether it’s  actually true or not, its first obligation is to feel true, even if it’s science fiction, maybe especially if it’s science fiction. The world you enter whether it’s the ped next door or the inner ear, it has to feel fuckin real.  Why did that note  strike me as so…obnox? I’m sure it had everything to do with the tone, but it really got me thinking about fiction (I mostly represent non-fiction). I do find it amazing that we, as humans, want to read made up stories and the reason we want to read them, at least in part, is because they seem true.

What’s up with that?

75 Responses

  1. Because there’s the alluring possibility of a happy ending.

  2. Writing a memoir, I realize things get condensed, not mentioned, etc. to move plot along. I have been wondering myself about disclaimers. My current problem is I am including new age and occult ceremonies that were instrumental in my healing journey, and I altered them somewhat. Witches don’t want their ceremonies published, and I don’t want people playing at witchcraft. So I wrote an authentic sounding ceremony, blending some things, still factual, but not verbatim. I was thinking, how do I explain that I altered the ceremonies without turning off the reader?

    • Why would you bother? Throw in a few jewel-encrusted dildos and you’re good to go.

      I agree that witchcraft is some heavy shit. My mother’s kept my father in a state of mindless obedience for years now, using only the power of her dependence. And by ‘my father,’ I mean ‘me.’ She walks backwards down stairs. She substitutes cabbage for apples. She loves me like quicksand and can see into the past. Why is this night different from all other nights? It’s just another story we tell ourselves. ‘Non-fiction’ my dappled ass. It’s bullshit, the word itself is a weak negation. Non-fiction. Not-lying. Not-false. Too timidly honest to call itself fact. Chin up, Heather, ‘authentic sounding’ is as good as it gets.

      • Publishers,

        Do love the swollen sales that your memoirs bring, but still hate the itch that comes from painful, embarrassing legal expenses?

        Try my new “Legally A-Peeling” ass-covering stickers!

        Here’s how it works: On every memoir you publish, you print the words: “Non-Non-Fiction.”

        As your book hits the stores, the first “Non” is discreetly covered with an adhesive L.A.P. sticker.

        You hustle the tome as a classic, Non-Fiction memoir.

        Later, when your author’s detailed accounts of his own harrowing, yet ultimately heroic triumphs have been revealed to have emerged entirely from the musky depths of his own rectal cavity: you instruct the retailers to remove the L.A.P. stickers covering the first “Non.”


        With L.A.P. stickers on your Non-Non-Fiction bestsellers, you can go tell legal to fuck themselves!

      • TOS,

        If only Billy Mays were still around to sell this for you.

      • I think you could go further and add a scratch and sniff element to the stickers, no?

      • Loves me like quicksand. Perfect.

  3. Because memoir sells, even if everybody keeps saying it’s dead fucking dead dead dead??

  4. I read for entertainment and escape. I don’t care if it is or could be true. Except I am kinda tired of those Anne Rule type crime stories. I think I want the story to be realistic, like Anne Rice’s vampires, maybe. I think I met one of them. But I write my personal alternative reality and lots of it is drawn from my actual reality.

  5. Verisimilitude is for chickens.

  6. The hunger for stories to be true is a great mystery to me because I don’t share it; I don’t like to read memoirs because I prefer my stories to be invented. But the urge has probably been around from the start. 17th-century accounts of travels always included prefaces swearing to the truth of the adventures, which usually included mythical monsters of some kind.

  7. “People enjoy just the right amount of strangeness, and authenticity is often too strange.”

    —Jo Walton

  8. Real life is better than fiction – you can’t make of that shit up. I think something rings true with another commenter’s comment – In fiction you get to tie everything up in a nice little package – true life not so much.

  9. Those micegnomes are dang cute. What is the deal with gnomes lately?

  10. Because fiction is based on human impulse. But as far as the first part of your post, it’s probably because you’re kinda literate and this isn’t 1838 and that Edgar Allen Poe stuff doesn’t work. Thanks TV! Or, whoever it is that wrote the thing you are writing about is a dweeb, and he, or she, I’m going with he, thinks that he will create a sense of mystery by disclaiming that he knows why his story is so uncanny, again, dweeb. Edgar Allen Poe face fuck. Or, it just might be the birds and the bees and the flowers and trees, and he is just stuffing his nest with the colors he thinks might attract the thing he wants, again..well, whatever. (what’s a ped?)

  11. But isn’t it all fiction?
    The moment something has happened, it is our recollection of the moment and not the moment itself, no? We cannot recreate what is past, so whether we call in fiction, or non-fiction, it is all a recreation.

    The reason it is obnoxious is because it’s cheap. The goal of the best fiction or non-fiction is truth, basic, raw, visceral truth. The author comment preceding the work, would seem to intentionally try and muddy that water. It falls into the, just-tell-the-damn-story-well category.

    Then again, there is nothing more obnoxious than trying to put Schopenhauer in a nutshell, or fiending I know what the hell I’m talking about.

  12. Maybe the author of the novel is a newcomer and unaware how that “note” device is no longer fresh?

    Re fiction vs. nonfiction: Fiction allows one to follow horrific events, terrible suffering and unrequited love with the comfort that the tale is not real. As an example: the Dave Pelzer books gave me nightmares; The Stand did not.

  13. Betsy, if the manuscript you read was the latest by Greg Mortenson, I think I know why he decided, at the last minute, to add that little note.

    • funny – you know he made the cover of Rotary Int. last year with his 3 cuppas tale? oh to be a fly on the wall at RI HQ!

  14. Preamble is retarded no matter what. I think your instinct with “who gives a shit” is apt. We read to jump away from the reality that we have to do the laundry and the cat just took a crap in the corner. It’s our own truth we want to escape, so tell me a story already. Invite me on an overnight, ’cause somehow the lentil soup and spinach you’re serving tastes way better than what comes out of my kitchen.

  15. I am sick of the “real” question. Real as what? The conformity we are meant to shove in three act formats with a rising arc of relatable feel good triumph? You mean that real? Good stories like great paintings are a human triumph whether abstract or “from life”.

  16. Does it make me sound like a tool if I say that novels should have their own truth?

    I write fiction and I write ‘real’ stuff for my blog and column and real talk? My fiction is closer to the ‘truth’ because I’m freer to get at it without consequences. I think that’s what appeals to readers as well.

  17. This is long but worth it: what one writer says about what’s up with that:

    A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line. And art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colours, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life, what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential — their one illuminating and convincing quality — the very truth of their existence. The artist, then, like the thinker or the scientist, seeks the truth and makes his appeal. Impressed by the aspect of the world the thinker plunges into ideas, the scientist into facts — whence, presently, emerging they make their appeal to those qualities of our being that fit us best for the hazardous enterprise of living. They speak authoritatively to our common-sense, to our intelligence, to our desire of peace or to our desire of unrest; not seldom to our prejudices, sometimes to our fears, often to our egoism — but always to our credulity. And their words are heard with reverence, for their concern is with weighty matters: with the cultivation of our minds and the proper care of our bodies; with the attainment of our ambitions; with the perfection of the means and the glorification of our precious aims.

    It is otherwise with the artist.

    Confronted by the same enigmatical spectacle the artist descends within himself, and in that lonely region of stress and strife, if he be deserving and fortunate, he finds the terms of his appeal. His appeal is made to our less obvious capacities: to that part of our nature which, because of the warlike conditions of existence, is necessarily kept out of sight within the more resisting and hard qualities — like the vulnerable body within the steel armour. His appeal is less loud, more profound, less distinct, more stirring — and sooner forgotten. Yet its effect endures for ever. The changing wisdom of successive generations discards ideas, questions facts, demolishes theories. But the artist appeals to that part of our being which is not dependent on wisdom: to that in us which is a gift and not an acquisition — and, therefore, more permanently enduring. He speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation — and to the subtle but invincible, conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts: to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity — the dead to the living and the living to the unborn.

  18. I really don’t care if it’s true or not. It just has to make sense. Anna Karenina killing herself? That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.

    • Apparently it made sense to her. Someone on SmartBitches said something about who ever said fiction writers couldn’t play fast and loose with the truth and many, many people jumped all over her. Did you read Michael Crichton’s footnotes in Stare of Fear?

    • I just wish more people could learn to truly relax, turn off their “inner editors,” and simply enjoy the beauty that is constantly unfolding all around us.

      Life is too short not to just kick back, accept the premise, enjoy the bit, and drinking yourself into a place where that pesky skepticism is numbed down and brought to heel.

      Does the shit that Charlie Sheen is tweeting now make the first few seasons of “Two and a Half Men” any less funny? Of course it doesn’t! But your constantly criticizing, now wants to reassess the show.

      I may just be another dreamy visionary, but I believe that if we (as humans) were to collectively shut down those portions of our brains that are responsible for so much negativity.

      You know which parts I mean. The one that triggers your incessant nit-picking at the creative endeavors of others. Or the section of your brain that triggers apprehensiveness when you’re confronted with the chance of a lifetime.

      Imagine our world transformed as lives are changed, opportunities are seized, and artists start creating again instead of constantly seeking new ways to settle old scores.


      I know that It in such a valhalla-like planet, my own existence would be immensely enhanced.

      If people everywhere were suddenly less leery, separating marks from wallets wouldn’t be the time-consuming drudgery that it has become.

      And what does having a planet full of distrust people accomplish? Nothing of importance, I’m certain.

      Oh sure, my colleagues and I may be forced into contriving increasingly elaborate schemes to get what we’re after, but we will always get it.

      At the end of the day, it is you, the critical skeptic, who is the ultimate loser.

      That’s because while I may have implemented the money alleviation scheme — it was YOU who casually discarded something even more valuable: your fresh, open-faced innocence.

      (Bartender: please cue the music to Brian Wilson’s, “Caroline.” Anyone care for slow dance?)

      Dear friends and possible future acquaintances, do the world a huge favor. Please … Stop thinking. Start enjoying.

      If you’d like to get the inevitable over with, I do accept paypal.

      • You want to know what else I wish for?

        An edit button on Betsy’s blog.

        I know it is possible to do before sending, but it is harder to see the mistakes there for some reason.

        Oh well.

        The main thing is that the paypal offer still stands.

      • Wow. My sincerest apologies. I didn’t mean to offend. I actually really loved the book. I loved it so much that I was really angry he killed off such an amazingly strong character. I thought it was a joke. I even turned the book over thinking I would find a secret chapter, hidden.

        I’m curious. Have you read Anna Karenina?

      • MSB,

        No offense taken.

        I haven’t actually read the … book … per se.

        I know that what I’m about to say may sound like I’m trying to equate one fully embraced experience with something completely inferior. I guess that is because that is exactly what I’m trying to do.

        I don’t know if you’re familiar, MSB, with the 1977 BBC/PBS miniseries that was based on the novel.

        No, I won’t claimed to have watched it.

        What I did do is go to the IMDB website and read a few viewers comments, and therefore, I feel I am qualified to opine at length about Tolstoy’s masterpiece.

        Tolstoy was a great writer. Of that, there can be no debate.

        Whether Anna Karenina will stand the test of time and still be read or even viewed in a decade’s time is another matter entirely.

        One of my major problems with this particular book of Tolstoy’s has to do with the inferior quality of video tape that the BBC used while transferring the series from the English PAL to the American VHS system.

        The whole story seems less than vivid. Washed out. Faded.

        A quick glance over at IMDB will confirm for you that many of other readers share my same concerns.

        (MSB, seriously, I’ll read it soon. )

      • Old School, I’ve enjoyed the wit you’ve displayed here lately but I must be honest. I think you’ve got a lot of chutzpah. Read the book. Then let’s talk.

      • But without those “inner editors”, most of the self-help writers would be out of work!

  19. With a surname of Scrivnor, I feel obligated to write in every category–fiction, non-fiction, memoir, short stories, novels, drama, poetry and whatever appeals to me. My novels are “nice” stories because that”s what I like to read. My heroines don’t get bit on the neck while making love and my heroes don’t get attacked by the underworld every ten pages. My current offering is a novel about a college botany instructor who takes his summer class to the Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes for research, and late at night on top of a dune, he accidentally sits down on the back of a friendly dragon. Agents and publishers don’t fancy it, but my friends and relatives do. Of course, we know that is no measure of success. Some of them are amazed I know how to write. Pax.

  20. I like made-up stories because they interpret the swamp of life by composing it into clean complex thought- and emotion- provoking forms. Musique concrete.

    Not that people don’t do that with so-called memoirs. Nobody would read them if they didn’t.

    I love nonfiction too, but I rarely get the same sense of pure pleasure in storytelling from it.

    I think that note was a grand case of saying too much. Of course it’s part experience, part art. And who wants to read an author who has just proclaimed herself queen of the bleeding obvious.

  21. Who would have believed the saga of Patty Hearst had it been an unsolicited novel prior to 1974? Worlds created by the mind, in images as vivid as a multi-colored Aldous Huxley brain wave, show us what we somehow know exists but are never quite fully aware of. Opening up those, ahem, doors of perception brings reality into focus. Just go ask Alice. Or Philip K. Dick.

  22. i think we love fiction because we love patterns. truth is okay, but patterns are the main thing.

  23. Fiction illuminates. Fiction allows you to gather conflicts, threading them together. So you’re not telling one story, but many stories. Stories that fit together perfectly, like mathematics or geometry. Real life is rarely as accommodating.

  24. I critiqued someone’s novel that had certain plot elements based on real-life events. He pictured this information broadcast on the flap copy and in promotional materials to entice readers. The problem was, the main story and all the interesting stuff was fiction. Worse, as a consequence of his marketing idea, he was unwilling to fictionalize/change the “true” elements — but the book would have been better for it, in my opinion.

    It’s a more sophisticated version of “But this happened in real life!” Honey, I don’t care what happened in real life unless it feels real and gripping on the page. Repeat after me: The page is a whole new world.

  25. Freud’s Dream Interpretations and his other theoretical works prove that scientists lie. So why shouldn’t everyone? Memoirs are one person’s POV. Fiction can be more honest than science. So the divisions are arbitrary IMO. Shakespeare’s historical plays were propaganda for the ruling class.

    • Holy crap, Nadine!

      You leapt from the balcony and onto the stage, a dagger clenched between your teeth, your glistening swords slashing and your steely eyes flashing!

      Nadine, your performance was akin to watching Bruce Lee (from his heydays, and with your tits, of course) and then imagining how much more impressive his development might have been had he had easy access to all of Ron Popeil’s latest kitchen technologies.

      In the time it takes to slice or dice a ripe tomato, you had stuck down two of the western canon’s most major dudes.

      No, Nadine. They’re not dead yet, but, thanks to you, they are already startin’ to smell funny.

      Look at ’em! Crawling beardedly about. Bloodied and simpering, gasping for their lives like freshly landed fish.

      Just out of curiosity, who do you recommend that we bring in to replace them? Keep in mind, our budget is fairly limited.

  26. The type of fiction I like to read always has the “ring” of truth to it. Like Fitzgerald, we all know many of his characters were “‘loosely” based on real people, that East Egg is really is really Sands Point, L.I. and he viewed Gatsbyesque parties while ekeing out a living from his nearby writer’s cottage. Even more loosely, when Lennon saw his son’s preschool drawing and wrote “Lucy in the Sky with the Diamonds,” that’s fiction, right? It’s gotta have its roots in some vestige of human experience or it doesn’t move us. That’s why memoir works and sells so well. I prefer a great novel to great memoir any day but that is harder to come by….
    ps I think it makes sense that Anna steps in front of the train

  27. Good literature is always someone’s truth. Great literature offers universal truths. Crappy stories, fiction or non, ultimately don’t ring true, so that one resents the time wasted and is tempted to write a negative review, but that would waste still more time.
    It’s not based on best-selling lists or even prizes in literature. Some great books have taken years to find a publisher while others win top prizes out of the gate, but so has crap.
    It’s about truth that speaks to your own heart, so Betsy is exactly right.
    Saying it might or might not be true is finally irrelevant, immature and yes, obnoxious.

  28. Perhaps we’re trying to write our own instructions, because the competing documentation suites that came with this presto-life-goodbye thing aren’t very clear?

  29. Sounds familiar. I’ve read books that had a similar sort of cheeky note at the front. It’s cutesy. I hate cutesy.

  30. There’s some smug satisfaction in believing we’re cunning enough to sniff out the reality in a work of fiction, as well as the potential fiction in a memoir. Provide me with a disclaimer and you’ve taken away half my motivation to read the story.

  31. Any thoughts re Shields McManifesto?

  32. Shields’ that is.

    I have not read it and can’t comment. (McManifesto was too easy, tho gentle.)

  33. Why must stories ring true to be good, no matter that they’re fiction? Probably because the larger truth lies within or around or behind the fiction. When I was taught to write book reports in grade school, we had to include “Theme” in our humble efforts, and as I grew, I came to see the Theme as the truth about the human condition — the truth illustrated by the fictional story. And because the familiar, despite being true, can seem dull and hackneyed, when an author finds a new way to say an old truth (e.g., “Do unto others” in Ian McEwan’s “Atonement”) it gives us new eyes and a new way to see.

  34. Hmm, I’m not particular about the delivery system. I eat fruit and veg and take an antidepressant. Is produce nonfiction? Is the antidepressant fiction? Who knows. Tho I don’t like it when nonfiction writers embroider elaborately and willfully and don’t cop to it. Emotional truth is the main thing, but factual details are important too. Would be irresponsible, disingenuous to pretend there are no distinctions, to pretend distinctions never matter. They do.

  35. People get published writing about sex slaves with extra penii that hatch from eggs. I like to think that reality at least informs fiction a little bit. I can’t imagine reading anything that far removed from reality. Anything I would read or write would hopefully provide some food for thought. But I guess, “Holy shit! That is ridiculous.” is a thought.

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