Monday, March 2, 2009

truth, lies, and artifacts

One of the things I'm constantly asked about regarding Faking It is how much of it is autobiographical. Those who know me especially seem to have a hard time w/ this because they hear my voice so clearly in the narration.

My answer is this: A lot of it is autobiographical. And none of it is autobiographical.

Keep in mind that when I wrote the first draft of Faking It, I was writing for an audience of one: me. Furthermore, I had never considered myself to be a fiction writer. I wrote, and taught, creative nonfiction. I taught the memoir. I suscribed to a theory of writing and teaching known as expressivism. But dammit, the idea for Faking It wouldn't go away, and I had to get it on the page. So I had decided to write the book that I would want to read. And I took the same advice I so often gave my students: start w/ what you know.

Thus, I created Andi Cutrone, Andi being my favorite girl's name, Cutrone being Italian and the last name of a guy I had had a crush on when I was in high school. I also wanted to use the nickname "Cutch" as a play on the last name. "Andrew" was my favorite guy's name, and the comedic possibilities of a couple named Andi and Andrew were too good to pass up.

She was a native Long Islander who lived in MA, just like me. She was a writing teacher, just like me, although I had no idea when I first decided to go down that road just how delicious that was going to be. Andi and Devin are wonderfully rhetorical together, and it led to the tagline that precedes Chapter One, which I absolutely love.

Other similarities? We like a lot of the same music, watch the same tv shows, etc. We both abstain from alcohol for the same reasons. We both love Junior's cheeseckae. We both have brothers who are musicians, although Andi's brothers are constantly on the road, so to speak.

Devin is pure fiction. Brooklyn U is fiction. So is Sam. And so is the story. Andi may have looked and sounded like me in the beginning, and I needed to rely heavily on what I knew in the beginning; but the more I wrote, the more the story came alive, Andi came into her own. It was *her* story, not mine. I don't deny that there was a truth that needed to be told (the idea was first conceived back in 1999, when Sex and the City just came out and I was envious at how open these women were about sex in contrast to my sheltered upbringing). But the truth became Andi's truth. It was about her upbringing. her fears. her insecurities. her secrets. Mine wouldn't have been nearly as interesting or as compelling. Trust me, I told someone recently, my autobiography wouldn't be half as fun to read. And the sequel to Faking It is a continuation of that story, quite removed from my own experiences in many ways, although re-interpreted in others.

There are one or two little references that really happened-- for example, when Devin tells Andi "we're not dating," this had co-incidentally been said to me by a friend I'd been spending a lot of time w/ months after I'd begun writing Faking It, and my reaction to him became Andi's reaction, because it was well suited to the story. Throughout the novel, Andi mentions the writer's use of artifacts to advance a story, to bring a truth to light. That's all I was doing. I used the artifacts of my own surroundings.

My work now uses a lot less of such artifacts (although my current protagonist is a former writing professor-turned-coffee-shop-owner living in Wilmington; I don't foresee such a career change in my own life); but I confess that often it's just plain fun to do so. I love that my characters are Gen-Xers, that they love cookies or read David Sedaris and quote lines from A Few Good Men. I love when I read something that a character says or does or likes and I am able to say, Me too! I like paying little tributes to people I know and love in ways only they will recognize. To me, that's what makes being a fiction writer so much fun.

Friends have insisted that Devin is an ex, or Andrew is an ex, or Sam is someone I had a crush on. They question if I really dislike my mother, or I ever secretly loved two men. They wonder if I knew anyone who ever used a male escort. And so on. I just politely remind them that this is Andi's story, not mine. A friend of mine once told me a story about a novelist whose protag had a twin sister who was killed. The author received letters of sympathy for the death of her twin sister, when the author had neither a twin, nor a deceased sister. People sometimes confuse fiction w/ nonfiction.

"Art is a lie which makes us realize the truth." -Pablo Picasso.
In Faking It, Andi and Devin debate the meaning of this statement. For me, it's quite obvious. And perhaps that's my most favorite part of being a writer -- in particular, a novelist.


TS said...

Elisa.. Hey how are you, it has been a while! I love the cover you chose for the book... you know I am a huge fan.

Elisa said...

T!! I've missed you! Glad you like the new cover and the new layout. Keep in touch! Hope everyone is safe and doing well.