Real life happens, and, paradoxically, that is what fiction is about.
Back in the stone-age days of the early 80s, I worked for Redbook magazine, which taught young married women how to manage the physicality of home and family, while supposedly reflecting their lives in all their nuances.
In 1985 I moved to Savvy Woman magazine as its publisher. Savvy was the magazine for the woman executive—a new phenomenon for those females “allowed” to play with the big boys in their sandbox.
Common to both types of magazines was the fact that none recognized the anguish of women who had failed to find a mate, or had coupled with the wrong man in a marriage that was ending in divorce. Nor was the word “custody” ever mentioned. Whether a homemaker or a CEO of a public company, there was an assumption of happiness within the context of a husband and children.
Redbook editors had told me that it would be “a kiss of death” for a magazine to touch the topic of divorce, let alone abuse, court, or lawyers. And in Savvy Woman magazine, we published a study proving how sexually satisfied executive women were. Only this year, the then-Editor-in-Chief (and still my friend), Wendy Reid Crisp, described the fraudulent way in which this study had been obtained. Executive women were shattering the glass ceiling with their heads. They were lonely and had little sex.
We trusted magazines. Women’s magazines were our friends, our companions. I loved their feel, their fresh smell of ink (before perfume samples had ruined it.) It was disappointing to read the indictment by the former the Editor-in-Chief of Ladies’ home Journal for over 20 years, Myrna Blyth, of women’s magazines and their exploitation of women’s insecurities and dreams….
Novels capture you in quite the opposite way. You approach a novel for the entertainment value, for the intellectual stimulation. You know it’s fiction, and you hope it would be good. Yet, as the story is artistically woven with universal emotions under the pressure cooker of seemingly real-life crises, you are carried into that world with all its trials and tribulations. You care. You are inspired and encouraged.
Because when you embark upon a journey with the protagonist, you discover or redefine truths along with her. Truth is a must in fiction. Only the specific details and personal events relating to the protagonist are fictionalized. The emotions must be real. The way information is being doled out must be sincere.
And if divorce or custody or death happen in fiction, it is because real life is filled with roads of no returns. As Nola, the protagonist of CHINA DOLL discovers, the most common denominator of people are the emotions of separations and losses.
And that emotional truth is the basis of a good novel.