I am probably a writer of fiction (as opposed to nonfiction) because from a very early age I loved to tell elaborate lies with convincing details. In the first grade I affected a British accent to tell the story of my birth in the back of a Volkswagen in London; in the seventh grade I concocted a potion of hand cream and food coloring to give myself a tan following a non-existent family trip to Hawaii, where our family (according to the extended version of my lie) was going to be relocating.
I was a child with curiosity and wanderlust and a colorful, lively imagination. My lies were not malicious and were only vaguely self-serving; mainly they existed to add glamour to a life that felt too ordinary. In bed at night I spoke to myself in faux French, puffing out my lips and making a lot of zh sounds. It follows that during the daylight hours I would wish to spice things up.
It is important to note that my lies never contained magical elements. No one ever flew or was transported in time machines. Instead, I took the everyday materials of real life (we actually had a little Volkswagen when I was six) and reworked the story, the surroundings. I took my real self and removed him from Ohio (and usually America), gave him the ability to speak many languages, dressed him in fancy clothes and then…well, then, my imagination could take me only as far as books and television had brought me by that time.
My lies brought attentive audiences, from whom I learned the art of brevity, and the need for credible plot twists and satisfying surprises. I was keenly aware of eyes glazing over or people wandering away, so I did my best to rivet them to where they were standing. My lies got me into trouble – one such lie caused my demotion from valedictorian to salutatorian of my high school graduating class – and out of trouble as well, as when, in the fourth grade, our substitute teacher found a nasty poem I had penned about her circulating in class, and in order to gain her sympathy I told her a horrifying story about cancer and death and sadness in our family, none of which was (yet) true.
I am lucky to have found a healthy channel for my need to invent. And like those early lies, much of what I make up for my books has elements of truth to it. Which is why I am both bothered and sympathetic when asked how much, or what, in my novels is true.
Come back all week to read more of Evan Fallenberg’s post. His new novel, When We Danced on Water, is now available.