by Elise Seyfried
I don’t know why, but lately a number of folks have asked me why I don’t write a novel or another work of fiction. Perhaps they have read my (non-fiction) books and blog and realize that anyone I know is fair game, potential fodder for my next essay, and they’d be more comfortable appearing in print in disguise.
The fact is, I did try my hand at a novel six years ago in the throes of my manic depression. I wrote it in less than two sleepless weeks as part of the National Novel Writing Month challenge. The result, entitled “Stoppage,” belonged more in Psychology Today than on the New York Times bestseller list. It was up! It was down! It was up and down!
I swear you needed Dramamine to read it. I can’t bring myself to pick up “Stoppage” these days; too many unhappy memories of that tormented time in my life come flooding back. After that strange experience I swore off penning fiction for a while, returning to my factual comfort zone with relief.
But I remain intrigued by the possibilities of make-believe. While I’m standing in line at the supermarket, I’m inventing back stories about my fellow standers. Mr. Tenderloin and Asparagus may be frantically wooing the girl who is ready to leave him. Mrs. Giant-size Pampers is wondering if she can afford to buy food after she’s taken care of her baby’s diaper needs.
The teens with the cart full of Oreos and Tostitos have the marijuana munchies. The dapper elderly gentleman with the solitary chicken breast and single tomato will go home to an empty apartment, with only Turner Classic Movies for company. It seems I should be able to parlay this natural curiosity and my love of writing, into a work of literature; yes?
Nope. Part of my problem is my severe ADHD. I simply cannot keep track of a plot, and often lose interest before I have even named all my characters. I read about successful authors who create complex charts detailing everyone’s comings and goings, mapping out towns that only exist in their minds.
I envy those who can home in on Conflict and Resolution, and tailor a manuscript that brings both to life. One of my friends in my writers’ group worked on a novel set in 19th century Rockport, MA for years, and recently finished it. Casey has a distinctive Victorian-era “voice,” and I truly enjoyed reading her book, but I just don’t think I could ever go down that road myself. And yet…
And yet. How much of our lives are our own fanciful creations? As we shave or brush our teeth in the morning, don’t we gaze into that mirror and decide who we will be today? Don’t we dress in our costumes and enter into our plot? Are my “real” tales not just a recounting of my made-up days?
I don’t know about you, but I often stand on the blurry line between fact and fiction, wondering if I can believe my own eyes and ears. Amazing things occur, things that would stretch credulity on the printed page. My daughter Rose’s casual coffee-shop conversation with a stranger in New York City led to the realization that the other person’s cousin lives on the same block as we do in Pennsylvania. 30 years after my sister Maureen’s death, I received an email from someone I didn’t remember, but who had dated Mo back in the 1970s. He’d found and read my book while waiting in his doctor’s office in New Jersey, and tracked me down. Hard to believe, but it really happened.
Someday I may give that novel another shot. Who knows? Meanwhile, I’ll keep writing my truthful essays about my actual life, knowing that there is a world of mystery and fantasy contained within. And the next time someone asks me if I write fiction, I’ll nod and reply, “Maybe.”
Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children. She is also the author of a self-published book, “Unhaling: On God, Grace and a Perfectly Imperfect Life.”