May 16, 2013

Short Story: On Truth in Fiction

As fiction writers, we strive to create truth on the page. We invent characters and settings, plot twists and mysteries, all the while hoping that our readers will believe the beautiful lies we have spun--because truth is what touches us. Truth taps into our emotions, allowing us to relate and learn. Truth unites us, readers and authors alike.

What's interesting is that sometimes, the fictions we create are so painfully real that we question the propriety of truth in fiction--we question whether or not Tris should have been sexually assaulted in Divergent. We question Amy's near-rape in Across the Universe. These moments are hard for readers, but they are hard for authors, too.

As authors, we are drawn to the darkest moments of our character's lives. We want to see and hear and feel what they feel, but we also want to share those experiences with respect. Because the stories we weave are not fiction for everyone. For some readers, what we have written is their truth.

I've always thought it was appropriate and important to portray dramatic circumstances from real life. I support authors who take on the tough moments and show them with passion and respect. I just didn't realize that I am one of those authors, not until this week.

For those of you who don't know the story behind my first novel for middle grade, the plot centers around a girl whose little brother is battling cancer--neuroblastoma, to be exact. My life was first touched by NB five years ago in Brooklyn, when a neighbor friend of mine disclosed that her son had the deadly disease. Through their family, I became involved in Cookies for Kid's Cancer, helping launch the initial year of fundraising (NB occurs in such a low % of the population it is not a lucrative field for pharma and relies on donations).

This week I learned that my 4yo's classmate has been diagnosed with the disease. This is shocking and terrible and heart-breaking news. This child is only three years old. She doesn't deserve this. And even though I know how random and sudden this disease can be from my book research, I was stunned by the news.

At first I felt something like guilt, for having written a novel that portrays this real person's circumstances. But then I went back and read the book. And I saw that the story I told is true, but it is also kind and respectful and hopeful--and I felt a renewed sense of obligation as a writer to share these stories with the world. Even when it hurts to do so.

Neuroblastoma came into my life five years ago, and it has come again, so I am taking the hint from the universe. I remain dedicated to helping discover new and better treatments for NB and childhood cancers. If you want to learn how to help, too, just follow the link. And hug your kids today. Then hug them again.
Want to support children's cancer research? Buy a book! Help save young lives.


  1. I glad you are writing this story. Something real, honest--and hopeful. Something, no matter the story, we all benefit in reading and learning from. I look forward to reading the story. :)

    1. Thanks, K! I can't wait to share it with the world one day.

  2. So true. It's important to portray the truth. If it wasn't difficult, then it wouldn't really be life and wouldn't make for a 'good' story that touches people. All our lives are stories being lived.

    1. I know! I used to think it was just the writing that was difficult--now I realize it's telling the STORY that's the real challenge.

  3. Lovely, lovely. I'm so glad you are one of those good people who takes hints from the universe and puts them into action. We need more of those people.

    1. It's so lovely to see you here! Thanks for the kind words.

  4. Dear Melanie,

    Thank you for this post.

    From what revealed, your book deals with real issues. Even if many of the readers of your novel will never be impacted by NB directly, each person who reads your book will have experienced some sort of pain. I admire MG and YA books that contain "real life" content. I look forward to eventually reading your book. And I'll be prepared to read some "hard" truths.

    I’m sorry to hear about the diagnosis of your child’s classmate.


  5. You already know I will champion your book once it hits the shelves, but I also admire you for writing this post.
    I was not aware such a disease existed. I always do my best to help fundraising causes for cancer and until I can do so for yours, at least I can spread the word with you.


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