For me, the most annoying question is, “How much of your novel is autobiographical?”
If Taking 1960 were autobiographical, I would be a tormented artist with psychotic relatives, and an apparent talent for solving decade-old serial murder cases.
If Check Out Time were autobiographical, I would be a somewhat homely girl with admirably large biceps, grease stains under her fingernails, steel-toed boots, and a dog named Diesel.
I am not either of these characters, and it grows tiresome when people continually confuse my life with my fiction. I know this happens to other authors. I attended a book talk once where the author was discussing her stories, which were loosely based on events in her childhood. In the book, the character’s father was a negligent drunkard (or something to that effect) and people in the author’s family were wondering if she was slyly revealing long-kept family secrets.
In a way, the confusion can be a compliment. Perhaps I have created such a believable world that people can’t help but think it’s an expression of my own life.
It does cause problems, though. When my mother first read the book, she was very upset, and wanted to know why I had killed her off. It took a lot of explaining to make her realize that Naomi is not me, and Naomi’s mother is not my mother. I pointed out some very large differences: Naomi’s mother is curvaceous, short-haired, and enjoys baking cookies. My mother is none of these things.
How much of Check Out Time is real?
Well, mostly just my experiences. Initially, I came up with the concept when I was working overnight in a grocery store, and when I had just met my dad again in 2008. I made up Naomi, gave her some of my interests, and gave her a few situations that I was familiar with.
To me, “write what you know” means “write the sorts of things that you’re familiar with.” I think some people take the phrase too seriously. Especially with fiction, people wonder if the author experienced the same things as the main character, or if the main character is based on them.
For example, the latest gossip centers around E.L. James and Fifty Shades of Grey. Everyone keeps whispering, “You’d have to know a lot about that stuff in order to write it.”
So, does E.L. James have a BDSM dungeon in her basement? Maybe.
Did anything in Check Out Time really happen? Most of it didn’t.
Writers: What’s the most annoying question you’ve ever been asked about your work?
Have you ever written anything with a particular goal in mind, only to have readers interpret it completely differently? How did this affect you?
Leave a comment: I would love to hear your thoughts!