A Little Bit of Truth Mixed with a Few Good Lies

A few years ago, when I was still studying in my MFA program, I had a fiction professor I admired immensely. She was smart, sassy, hilarious (and beautiful, to boot), and she had red hair and wore leather pants. She was and is one of those people who can pull off anything, and if I were to get stuck in an elevator with someone, she’d be on the list of those with whom I’d choose to get stuck. (I might even jam up the elevator just so I could get stuck.) It goes without saying, though I’ll say it: she was a fabulous writer. She struck me as fearless. I chose to study with her specifically—I wanted someone who was going to push me in my writing, and who wouldn’t hold back, but would do it kindly. She lived up to my expectations.

This professor started each class with prompts from real life. She asked us to write about our photographs, our memories, our fears. The best fictional stories, she said, often originated from our own lives. But, she cautioned, exaggerate what really happened, and the characters, their qualities and personalities.

I never forgot that advice.

There were two stories from my life that I really wanted to write as nonfiction, but I couldn’t remember enough about the details to render them well. I could remember what happened, but only some of the dialogue, not enough to make the nececessary story building blocks: scenes. At least not enough to make honest ones. I’m a stickler for truth in memoir. I don’t write down dialogue in my nonfiction stories unless I actually remember what someone said and how they said it (at least according to my memory, which I recognize could be flawed, but at least it is what I remember and I’m not making it up. I don’t buy into the theory that, “Well, he probably said that,” or “This is the way he talked in general.” If I didn’t write down what was said at the time—thank goodness I used to be an avid journal-keeper—or I don’t remember it, then it doesn’t go into my nonfiction story in quotation marks and that’s that.)

My fiction professor gave me hope. I could write these two stories from my life as fiction—start from the truth and change up the characters, change their histories, even change up what happened if I wanted to. So I did exactly that. “The Snowstorm” is one of those two stories, and it ultimately became the first fiction story I published (thank you, Zone 3!). 

When I started to talk to the publisher of my memoir about doing an exclusive giveaway for those who preordered my book, what came to my mind immediately was “The Snowstorm.” Though my book is nonfiction and this story is fiction, the story chronicles two young people as they navigate the choices and sacrifices one must make to go for the love they each want. Which is what my memoir is about, too. 

My publisher gave “The Snowstorm” a beautiful design, and the story will be given to anyone who preorders The Going and Goodbye.

I have been working on a short story collection for the last few years, and it’s nearly done. “The Snowstorm” is in it, of course. As I have been writing short stories, I often think of advice my professor gave me. I think of her fearlessness. I think of how I hope my own journey toward fearlessness would make her proud.