Ironically, one of the questions a writer of fiction hears most often is, How much of the story is true? It is a slightly annoying question. One is prompted to ask whether the story does not stand on its own. Yet it is an understandable query. What is being asked is, How did you do it? Where does it come from? These are questions we all wish to ask but can rarely answer. Behind them lies all the mystery of art.
Sometimes, though, the answer is straightforward. In the case of a story I wrote some years ago, “The Transitional Object,” fiction enabled me to reverse what had happened in reality, with impunity, to make my protagonist active—always more satisfying in fiction—when I had actually been passive. It was my passivity, my inability to defend myself, that galled particularly over the years.
In order to do this, I made my protagonist younger than I was, a psychology student at the Institut Catholique, in Paris, who goes to her professor to discuss the paper she is writing. When the student rejects her professor’s sexual advances, he gives her a low grade so that she’ll lose her scholarship. Having no other means of support or protection, she goes hungry. All of this prepares for and makes possible a dramatic act of revenge. Read More