A great question from Anonymous came in the comments the other day. I get it a lot, so I figured it’s worth repeating as loud as I can.
Anonymous wrote: “i go to fm high school and ive always been wondering who the teachers really were at the school. i know one of them is based on mr procopio (who still teaches there by the way) but i dont know which one.”
(Note to world: F-M is where I went to high school.)
Here was my reply: “Nobody in the book is based on anyone in real life. (I keep saying this over and over and over again, but nobody seems to listen to it.)
SPEAK is NOT a memoir. SPEAK is a work of fiction.
However, the kind, positive influence that Mr. Freeman has is very much like the kind, positive influence Mr. Procopio had on me, and countless other students. Fiction writers borrow from real life. But we don’t photocopy it.”
I guess the distinction between fiction and memoir/autobiography/RealWorld is getting blurrier as all the stupid “reality” shows continue to inbreed and virally infect our brains. Like most fiction authors, I borrow some things from my life (not much), I take material from the culture and world around me, and I make up tons and tons of stuff. Blend it together and it becomes a story.
I am fascinated by what seems to be a growing concern about what is “real” in books, as opposed to what is “not real.” (This is also the heart of the issues faced by writers like James “I Lied, I Lied” Frey, and some are now saying, Augusten Burroughs.)
Because I enjoy writing fiction, and because I actually am a fairly private person, I will probably go with the very first option – make up the whole darn thing. I will, however, probably pull something from my emotional memory bank. (This is an advantage older writers have over younger writers. More years = more experiences = bigger pile of emotion to tap into. On the other hand, we fall asleep by 8:30pm, so it evens out.) I know what it feels like to fall in love, fall out of love, be starry-eyed, have a jealous fit. Whatever the emotional tenor of the scene requires, I’ve been there. So even if I make up every single detail of the scene, the emotions probably echo something I’ve lived through.
Does that make sense? Any thoughts?