Guest Post: E. Lockhart on Where Fiction Comes From

By E. Lockhart

Cynthia’s invitation to write a guest blog post on the release of Real Live Boyfriends (Delacorte, 2010)(excerpt) came with a very mild suggestion that I might like to include a picture of my cat.

As you might guess from reading the Ruby Oliver books (of which The Boyfriend List (Delacorte, 2005) was the first and RLB is the fourth and last) — I am an animal person. There are lots of animals in those books. Pygmy goats and llamas and a silly Great Dane.

Here he is. In truth, I have two cats — it’s just that I only have an attractive picture of Pongo. Mercy cat is camera-shy, and I know she would not want an unflattering picture of her on the internet.

So, I’d found my cat picture and I was trying to think what to write, as I always find guest-blogging difficult.

I worry about sounding self-promotional or nattering on about some pointless something. And then I realized I wanted to write about the cats. Because, not to mince words — they are going to die. Maybe not today, but possibly today.

Mercy cat is down to four and half pounds. Pongo has more ailments than any other animal my veterinarian treats. They are nearly sixteen years old.

My sadness about the kitties is relevant to Cyn’s blog not just because she is a cat-person, but because it has something to do with how I come up with a story.

I am sure you can understand the way a person can go about her day, laughing and working and thinking of trivialities like what should I wear to my meeting (my pink stripy dress) and what should I eat for lunch (Vietnamese salad) — while all the time carrying something in her chest: my cats are so, so sick. Or whatever it is that person carries.

It feels is very much similar to carrying a story around in one’s chest. That is how I know that I’ve got an idea that’s good enough to commit time trying to write. It’s there in my chest even while I’m putting on lipstick or chatting with a friend. It’s there, and I’m a little afraid to look at it. Because tears might leak out my eyes or my heart might pound.

The story is usually linked to a grief or an anger of some kind. The Ruby Oliver books started with a deep leftover sadness about the end of my first love. It had a complicated, drawn-out end, not at all the end of Ruby’s love in the book — but the book I wanted to write (The Boyfriend List) would be about those feelings.

The ache in my chest told me there was enough there that I could make up all kinds of goofy characters and plot details, but the center of the story would be true.

The other day I surprised myself by writing a short piece of fiction about a starving wolf in a frozen forest. The animal dies at the end. I hadn’t planned to write it. I just — well, it very rarely happens to me, but I just opened a document and it was suddenly there.

Of course it was about my kitties. And maybe about some other things lodged in my chest. And I felt so grateful for my luck to be someone whose job it is to make fiction out of pain.

I write comedies. I realize everything I’ve written above is so serious, my books must sound like those by Adam Rapp or Sonya Hartnett, when instead I am a rather goofy satirist with a randy sense of humor.

What I’m saying is, these things we carry around in our chests, whatever they might be — they are the starting points for fictions.

Cynsational Notes

On Real Live Boyfriends

“This hilarious novel [is] narrated in Ruby’s perfectly executed teenspeak and littered with her manic lists…. Like, really recommended.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Everyone’s favorite neurotic, prone-to-panic high-school student is back….. Fans of the series will clamor for Ruby’s latest adventure.” — Booklist

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