When I write fiction, I look for truths not yet revealed. Not always about deeds committed or intended, some truths are simply revelations a character will have, often about his own soul. Today I take specific examples from the pieces in my story collection, All The Roads That Lead From Home, to illustrate what I mean.
Leading the way is “Surrogate,” when the protagonist, Maggie, who miscarried late in her pregnancy spends the day babysitting her tenant’s little girl and sees, suddenly, that’s she’s ready to try motherhood again. In “For The Taking,” a series of abusive relationships leads one young woman to push back and notify the police that her ex-boyfriend has committed murder during the course of a drug deal gone wrong because she knows, at last, that though she’s been willing to be taken, she refuses to be bought.
I tend to favor truth that turns on love. Love withheld and love ignored, in particular. I connect both through one character, Cory, in “Snow Country,” who thinks her father never loved her and always favored her disturbed and menacing brother, Lander. The truth is that her father sent her away to protect her, not because he didn’t care for her. Feeling both banished and abandoned, Cory ignores the possibility that her father’s affection is genuine and prefers to believe that it’s been routinely withheld. As he lies dying, and states what he never had before, she’s forced to re-evaluate her assumptions about him.
Truths can also be stretched. My story, “An Imaginary Life,” revolves around one embellished tale after another. Nina, the main character, tells her lover about the time she and her sister met Jimi Hendrix at Newark Airport in the late sixties. The sister, now dead, rushed forward to ask for an autograph. By the story’s end we learn that it was in fact Nina who did so, and changed the tale to give her late sister a daring side she didn’t posses in life. Meanwhile, Nina’s lover, Ted, a History professor on leave, has written a diary he attributes to a non-existent Civil War soldier. His details are elaborate, yet all drawn from his own life. He, too, discards his fiction by the story’s end.
Then there’s the truth of what a character really wants. Angelica, in my last story, “Our Love Could Light The World,” realizes that despite her own cynicism and sharp tongue, what she wants more than anything is to be loved as much as the dead wife of an elderly nursing home resident who speaks her name over and over. Kirsten, in “The Fall,” a college student driven to despair over her poor academic performance at a highly competitive university, decides at the last minute not to end it all when the beauty she’s longed for in the world shows itself as the morning light hits the gorge she thought to throw herself into.
For me, good writing all comes down to finding the truth in fiction.