I was interviewed for The Saturday Rumpus interview by one of my fabulous, former Hopkins students, Tyrese Coleman, who came up with such insightful, smart questions about the lines between blurring fact and fiction that I was really sweating my answers….but here’s a tease:
Rumpus: Most writers acknowledge the moral and ethical implications of sticking to the truth when we say a piece of writing is nonfiction, but do you believe that same moral and ethical responsibility exists when you make a claim that a piece of writing is fiction? If there are obligations concerning fiction, what are they?
Pietrzyk: Before writing this book, I would have said that my only obligation as a fiction writer is to the story, to make it good, so good the busy reader doesn’t feel that flipping those pages was a waste of time. And I still believe that. But maybe there’s more. Even in fiction, you want to be mindful of the people in your life and of your responsibility in portraying either them or their roles (in my particular case here, for example, “second husband” or “mother-in-law”). A lot of people lost Robb, not just me—and even fictionally, I wanted to be gentle with them while staying true to the story I needed to tell. So my obligations as a fiction writer have grown to include always being hardest on myself. I focused on the “young widow” figure, having her do the worst things (i.e. sleeping with her brother-in-law, being cruel to the mother-in-law) knowing that I would and could handle any flak or emotional fallout. Readers may think those incidents are in the “true” side of the equation of the book, and that’s a risk I’m taking—for myself. I could have drawn in other “true” people from Robb’s life, but that didn’t seem fair to me since they didn’t ask to be part of this highly personal book. (Maybe this kindness keeps me off Team CNF?)