Since publishing my first novel Life After Yes last May, I have been asked the same question over and over: How autobiographical is the story? And even though I've had plenty of time to come up with a good and satisfying answer to this one, I tend to bumble my way through my response every time. I say something along the lines of: There are bits and pieces of me in the book - of course there are - but no one character in it is me or someone I know. And the story is totally imagined even if aspects of it do come from my life or experience.
This is all true. What I love about writing fiction is that I am allowed to draw from what I have lived and what I know while making stuff up.
I recently finished a wonderful novel called The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst wherein the protagonist Octavia Frost is herself an acclaimed novelist. Here and there, Octavia muses on the experience of being a novelist, of having a writer's soul. And she says something that really struck me.
...There's an analogy I came up with once for an interviewer who asked me how much of my material was autobiographical. I said that the life experience of a fiction writer is like butter in cookie dough: it's a crucial part of flavor and texture -- you certainly couldn't leave it out -- but if you've done it right, it can't be discerned as a separate element. There shouldn't be a place that anyone can point to and say, There -- she's talking about her miscarriage, or Look -- he wrote that because his wife had an affair.
The Nobodies Album, Carolyn Parkhurst, p. 153
Yes. Yes. Yes. She (Octavia? Carolyn?) has nailed it as far as I'm concerned. The fiction author's personal experience is an ingredient, a vital one, to the recipe of the story, but it cannot be, and should not be, detectable as such.
Like butter in cookie dough.
Do you ever find answers to your life questions embedded in the books you read? When you read a novel or other piece of fiction do you ever assume that it is autobiographical? How much of your own life experience do you put into your work (writing or other)? Anyone else a big fan of cookie dough?