But did it REALLY happen?

I get the question all the time, usually from someone I know, phrased in a variety of ways:

Did it really happen?

Are any of the characters based on specific people?

Your descriptions of ________are so vivid and realistic.  Are they based on personal experience?

I've even been asked if the jumping girl on the cover is me.

This curiosity is human nature, of course, and inevitable that my protagonist, Erica, used to live in New York (like me), has four children (like me), and shares some personality traits with me.  Ethan works on Wall Street, as did my husband.  We used to live in New York, and moved.

I also have a very active imagination.

These questions are uncomfortable, but the very essence of publishing any fiction that deals with real human emotion is akin to dancing naked across a stage.  I've already exposed myself as much as I want to.  If I wanted to totally differentiate what is "real" and what is not, I would not be writing behind the veil of fiction.  My answer to all these questions is basically this:   None of the characters are based on specific people.  Many of the events are entirely fictional, and in other cases I have taken great liberty with the facts.  There are a few people who may recognize parts of themselves in the story; they know who they are.  That said, the settings are ones I know intimately, and the emotional truths are real.

No matter how many times I deny that this or that prurient detail REALLY HAPPENED I realize I won't be totally believed.  A nugget of doubt will remain, and I'm OK with that.  There's a lot of people running around thinking I'm more interesting than I really am.   

 

likability is overrated

It's an ego-wrenching experience, seeing your book reviewed.  It's what I wanted, what I fantasized about, yet still difficult to see my character/babies run through the wringer.

No one, apparently, passes judgment on my sentence structure, use of metaphor, or narrative arc.  Instead, it's Erica, and to a lesser extent Ethan and Debbie, on trial.

Some readers love Erica, many dislike her intensely.  She's spoiled, irresponsible, reckless.  She endangers her family with her recklessness! 

Personally, my heart is always with Erica.  She is my literary baby, after all.  I admire her spirit and energy, her zest for experience, her instinct for survival, her capacity for love, however distorted.  And I also fully acknowledge her darker side and the wreckage left by her recklessness.  We human beings carry both light and darkness within us and my desire as a writer is to explore them both. I tried to write the kind of book I like to read, whichleaves me a little unsettled, slightly different than I was before I read it.

I think likability is sometimes confused with meeting expectations and conforming to stereotype.  We read about awful behavior all the time as entertainment, actions far worse than any crimes committed by Erica or Ethan, but those actions are safely confined to terrorists, psychopaths, or historical figures.  They are not our friends, our family, ourselves.  It is easy for decent people to make a mistake.  Just look around at the world we live in.  When you make a mistake it becomes easier to make another one, and another one, until the stakes are higher than you could possibly have imagined.

Writing Wrong Highway was an exercise in empathy, requiring me to dig deep and truly explore how my characters could make seemingly inexplicable decisions when faced with the right mixture of character and circumstance.  And since those characters came out of my head, to write honestly, I needed to access those parts of myself that potentially had  the capacity to act as they did.  This was not always the most comfortable of experiences, but it was ultimately rewarding.  For a reader it is different--a novel is essentially an entertainment--  but I hope Wrong Highway will take you on a rewarding, if sometimes unsettling, journey.