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How I Wrote A Piece of Work

by Laura Zigman



People often ask authors if the stuff in their novels -- the good stuff, the juicy stuff, the stuff most likely to get them into trouble -- is true. And when asked, most authors will say that they've made everything up; that nothing in the book is autobiographical. One of the reasons they say this is because they don't want to get in trouble, which is completely understandable. Another reason they say this is so that they can appear to be fabulously imaginative: it's much harder, these alleged fabulously imaginative fiction writers would argue, to make stuff up than it is to simply write things down that have actually happened to you.

 

Not for me. I think recalling and dredging up and writing about painful and embarrassing events that have actually happened - bad blind dates, bad relationships, bad break-ups, acting like a completely insane obsessive-compulsive jealous suspicious (but almost completely justified) boyfriend stalker -- and things that have been survived - gigantic narcissists; bad sadistic bosses behaving like complete lunatics -- is much harder. But then, I'm biased. Because that's what I do. I write about things that have happened to me.

 

What I also do is admit that I write about things that have happened to me.

 

I used to call this kind of fiction "Thinly Disguised Autobiographical Fiction" but that's way too long - especially with how short people's attention spans are and especially if I hope someday to get a whole new bookstore genre made especially for me. For a while I called it "Extreme Emotional Survival Fiction" since I couldn't help drawing a comparison between how crazy risk-taking adrenalin junkies are drawn to extreme adventure sports and how I am drawn to extreme emotional survival situations. But that was way too long a name, too, which is why I found a much easier name for what I write: "Faction." "Faction" is factual fiction. Or, fiction based on fact.

Example: After going through an extremely painful break-up in my late twenties, I became so obsessed with what had happened and why that I spent an inordinate amount of time researching the similarities between male behavior and animal behavior. My first novel, Animal Husbandry, is about a woman who goes through an extremely painful break-up and becomes so obsessed with what happened and why that she spends an inordinate amount of time researching the similarities between male behavior and animal behavior. See? Faction.

Another example: After being romantically challenged through most of my early thirties, I began panicking about how I would have kids if I didn't meet someone in time to have them with. My second novel, Dating Big Bird, is about a woman who is romantically challenged through most of her early thirties and decides how she will have kids without having someone to have them with. See? Again: faction.


Yet another example: after meeting the man who would become my husband, I met his gorgeous ex-wife one day when my hair was incredibly frizzy and while I was wearing a big stupid parka. I instantly became deeply insecure and also completely unhinged by how deeply insecure I was. My third novel, Her, is about a woman who meets her fiancé's gorgeous ex-girlfriend for the first time when her hair is incredibly frizzy and while she is wearing a big stupid parka. This makes her deeply insecure and also completely unhinged by how deeply insecure she is. Again: faction.

And my last example: before becoming a stay-at-home mom, I worked for ten years in book publishing in New York City as a publicist and was forced to travel with many celebrity authors whose behavior on the road was completely appalling. My fourth novel, Piece of Work, is about a stay-at-home mom who is forced to go back to work as a publicist at a third-rate P.R. firm after her husband loses his job. Her first client is a legendary Hollywood has-been who is desperate to make a comeback and whose behavior on the road is completely appalling. Needless to say, faction again.

And so, if you end up reading Piece of Work and you start wondering whether any or all of the appalling celebrity behavior is actual appalling celebrity behavior that I experienced throughout my many years as a much-abused long-suffering publicist, remember this:

It's true. And that's a fact(ion).

 

Laura Zigman grew up in Newtonville, Massachusetts, and spent ten years working in the book publishing industry in New York. She is the author of ANIMAL HUSBANDRY, DATING BIG BIRD, HER, and PIECE OF WORK.



sallypfoutz
01.16.08

Laura Zigman is so likable. I ordered Animal Husbandry after reading her Wash. Post article on antidepressants, and it is a terrific book that I then recommended to my 2 daughters. Now that I've read her piece on "faction" I'm going to order Piece of Work. Not that I'm a celebrity author but I can't wait to read about how awful they are.