Fiction vs. Nonfiction in APART FROM YOU
Create Space, 2010 / ISBN 978-1449976279 / Trade pbk.
Available from www.amazon.com (or order from any bookstore)
Since the publication of my novel Apart from You, it's become evident to me that some readers who know me personally assume that the book is a sort of diary or autobiography: that Elizabeth is me at the ages of 19 and 20; that Alan is my husband, David; that Clara is my younger sister Cathy; that Brian is a former lover of mine, and so forth. So I need to emphasize that my book is a novel, and that the events therein are primarily fictional. There are autobiographical elements in the story, but those are relatively few, as the following information will show. It will also show the extent to which I took minor events and things in my past life, as well as some people I've known, and remade them to suit my story.
The quite serious themes of the book are alienation, separation, miscommunication, sibling rivalry, deception, naiveté, and the bad effects of excessive self-indulgence. The final message, however, is one of acceptance of one's fate and hope for the future - without which one can scarcely get through life, I feel.
For a summary of the plot and other information about the novel, please click here.
It took me roughly 23 years to write this novel. Thus I had a long time to ponder and then fictionalize a few events from my youth, as well as to learn a whole lot more about myself, the family into which I was born, and life in general. In the novel, I tried hard to represent a variety of views and emotions, not just my own. Above all, I tried to write an engrossing and thought-provoking story.
What follows here is a brief chapter-by-chapter summary of what's fiction and what's not in my novel. If you want to know more than what I tell you here, you'll have to ask.
I recommend that you read the novel before you read this summary of fictional vs. nonfictional elements in it, as you'll probably enjoy the story more that way. But in whatever order you read the two pieces of writing, you have my deep appreciation for the time you're spending on me and my words.
I also invite you to look at the rest of my Web site. In particular, I'd like to point out the Web page regarding my non-fiction book, Another Chance at Life: A Breast Cancer Survivor's Journey.
You're welcome to contact me with questions or comments. Please see my addresses at the beginning and end of this piece.
Ch. 1 - Elizabeth, her father, and their neighbor Nan Culver are introduced
The picture of neatnik Elizabeth at home in Mobile, Alabama is loosely based on reality. I really was almost two different people at home and away at college. The home self was not always likable.
We did have a neighborhood paper girl in Mobile in the mid-1960s, and her mother did invite my father and me to tour her lovely house one day, but Nan Culver and her sad history are invented.
Ch. 2 - The party scene
The overall flavor of this chapter echoes real parties my parents gave in the 1950s and 1960s, when heavy smoking, hard drinking, and general debauchery were entrenched parts of academia. My father is a retired English professor, so I know about this stuff. By comparison, the present-day academic scene is astonishingly tame, even puritanical. If you don't believe me, ask anyone who's been teaching on the university level for more than 30 years.
Almost all of the individual party guests are invented. A couple of them are loosely based on real people who are now dead.
My younger sister Cathy, a musician and music teacher who lives in France and is married to a Frenchman, is a great deal more intelligent, talented, and emotionally complex than the shallow Clara. She plays the cello and the piano, also composes, and used to teach dance as well. The book's sibling rivalry details are fairly accurate, but somewhat watered down. The reality was worse. My very tense relationship with and consuming jealousy of Cathy pretty well poisoned much of my childhood and adolescence.
I have five sisters, one older than I am and four younger. Four of my sisters have been left out of this story entirely. It's not that all those other sisters weren't or aren't important to me. It's just that including fictional versions of them would not have added anything to this particular tale.
My mother, a retired music teacher and music librarian, is considerably stronger, more talented, and more self-sufficient than the doormat-like Irene. It's from her, I think, that I get my sometimes damaging workaholic tendencies.
Ch. 3 - Jonathon's revelations about himself and Reva Houghton
This chapter is part fiction, part truth. "Reva" really existed, but she was not a sculptress, and has been dead for many years. She was married, but I barely remember her husband, so Lloyd Houghton is almost complete fiction ' as are Jonathan's torrid memories. The Houghtons' farmhouse and the Nyes' visit are loosely based on reality. Our one visit there was great fun for me and my sisters.
At the age of 20, both Elizabeth and I still had a great deal to learn about human frailties, both our parents' and our own.
Ch. 4 - Alan in Chicago
David and I were separated the year before we married, which was on April 9, 1968. That difficult year apart was my senior year at Indiana University and David's first year working in Houston, at NASA, where he was an aerospace engineer working on the Apollo missions. For Elizabeth, the separation from Alan comes during her junior year at Indiana.
David had perfectly legitimate student, work, and fatherhood deferments during the Vietnam era. This risky draft-dodging set-up is fictional.
When David and I met, he was from Elkhart, Indiana, not from Chicago. However, his family did live in Chicago after they first moved to this country from South Africa. David was then 13.
I once worked in a bookstore, but David never did. This place is modeled on modern college bookstores.
Unlike Alan, David is not an only child. He has two older sisters.
Ch. 5 - Elizabeth talks to Brian in the cafeteria
Yes, I was a German major at Indiana University, and I took all the courses mentioned in the novel.
Here's what's probably the biggest surprise to most readers: Brian, whom I consider the book's central character, is almost totally invented. Yes, I did have an affair during my senior year at Indiana University, while David and I were separated (see the notes on Ch. 4), but Brian Petersen is not that man. My real lover and Brian are quite different from one another in appearance, background, manner, and attitude. Also, David and J. knew all about each other from the outset. I could never have deceived anyone the way Elizabeth deceives Brian and Alan.
Some readers have commented that they don't like Elizabeth very much. That's exactly the reaction I was hoping to elicit. I wanted to write a story about an essentially decent man who is deceived and hurt by a foolishly self-indulgent young woman. In real life, as we all know, males have no monopoly on hurtful behavior.
Ch. 6 - Brian's house and the first sex scene
This chapter is almost a complete invention.
Rhodesia (her real name) was the first cat that David and I owned together. Unfortunately, she ran away from home when we moved from our second Houston-area apartment to our house in Friendswood, Texas. Putting her into the novel was my tribute to the peculiar little creature.
Many years ago, in Toronto, I bought some of that dark brown Roberts' soap. It's great.
Ch. 7 - Brian and Elizabeth in the pancake house
The details about Brian and his family are almost totally invented. However, his older sister Pauline's family situation - the stay-at-home wife with four little kids, the lawyer husband ' is loosely based on that of a former Denver friend of mine.
With the Elizabeth/Clara/Irene parts of the book, I moved much closer to autobiography. The scene where they go shopping downtown, the story of the discontinued piano lessons, and the mess in Clara's bathroom are all based on reality. Someday I'd like to try again to learn to play the piano. I played the viola, passionately but not very well, from the ages of nine to 18, but I gave it up when I left for college. I envy my various sisters their considerable musical talent.
David taught me to lift weights almost 40 years ago, while we were still dating. However, our serious workouts didn't start until a few years after we moved to Denver, which was in the fall of 1971. In 1976, I started my long career of teaching weight training. I've been doing that ever since. Since 1988, however, my main work has consisted of tutoring foreign languages (now German and Spanish, formerly French as well) and translating (mainly German to English). For details of my tutoring business, please click here. For details of my weight training business, please click here.
Ch. 8 - Elizabeth's first evening at home with Brian
Yes, J. (see the comments on Ch. 5) is an extremely tidy person. By contrast, my father used to be a slob. But anyone who has seen the paper chaos in my study and the mess in our garage knows that I'm not one to criticize in real life!
David and I used to love coffee with Kahlúa, but I had to stop drinking alcohol over a decade ago. If I drink more than a tiny sip of alcohol, I can't sleep at night.
The recipe for Guatemalan Chocolate came out of a cookbook I own. The drink is very good, but rather tedious to make. Just pass the instant cocoa mix, please.
Ch. 9 - Morning with Brian, etc.
Elizabeth's teacher Noel Striker is based on an amusing English professor I had at Indiana University. My German history professor was quite different, much more staid.
Ch. 10 - Elizabeth writes Alan and Brian writes Pauline
In this chapter, I tried to solidify a general impression of Elizabeth's untruthfulness and Brian's fateful naiveté.
The story of the firebombing of Dresden made a huge impression on me when I first heard it in German history class. I cheated a bit, here, by adding data gleaned from more recent reading on the ghastly incident.
Brian's office vaguely resembles the office David had at Indiana University, where he worked as a teaching assistant while he was a graduate student of mathematics. Over his many decades of working, David has been a math T.A., an aerospace engineer, a technical writer, and a computer programmer, as well as a much-published author, mainly in the genres of science fiction, horror, and mystery. (See notes on Ch. 4.) Back when he worked in that tiny little university office, though, David assumed that he would never do anything but teach mathematics and perhaps physics. Will Brian's life take as many turns as David's has? If I ever write a sequel to this novel, we'll all find out. As any writer knows, one's characters seem to have minds and plans of their own.
Ch. 11 - Domestic matters / The toy penguin
This chapter is almost all fiction.
I really was a pretty poor cook years ago, and it's true that my mother never taught me to cook. I had to learn how after I married, and never got all that good at it. For many years, during the 10 years that I taught weight training outside the home in the evenings, David did all the meal planning, grocery shopping, and quite good cooking. (Lucky me!) He still does all the grocery shopping. Now, with our only child long gone from home, David and I hardly cook at all. We eat a lot of things like soup, salads, bread, cheese, hummus, and canned fish or chili. As we're both so busy, that suits us fine. We go out on weekends for more exotic fare. We love ethnic food, especially Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, Greek, Middle Eastern, and Ethiopian. I'll be happy to pass on some Denver-area restaurant recommendations.
The toy penguin in the novel, Admiral Bird, was Daniel's favorite stuffed toy when he was little. I named it.
In our furnished house in southern Germany (1959-1961), there was a chest-of-drawers in the bedroom that Cathy and I shared. The bottom drawer was filled with just such needlework odds-and-ends. I tried teaching myself how to embroider and do cross-stitch, but ended up giving myself a deep and scary puncture wound with a large needle. That was the end of those particular domestic pursuits. However, in the Oberrealschule I attended in the Bavarian town of Fuerstenfeldbruck, the girls were taught how to knit or sew. I really took to knitting, and got fairly good at it. Now I have no time for knitting, and wear few sweaters in any case.
Ch. 12 - Brian's oral exam / Elizabeth calls Alan
Never having gotten past the attainment of two Bachelor's degrees, I had next to no idea of what Ph.D. oral exams are like. I had heard a few funny stories about individual experiences with such nerve-racking exams, but that was all. Dr. Jeremiah Ring, one of my history professors at Metropolitan State College of Denver in the late 1980s, was a big help to me here. Over lunch one day, he gave me enough information that I hope this is a fairly accurate representation of such ordeals.
James Miller is loosely based on a history professor I had at Indiana University. For that matter, I was in the class of a terrific (blond) history teaching assistant while I was taking that course, but the serious young man never showed any particular interest in me, and we certainly never dated.
Ruth Teppich, Elizabeth's French teacher, is an invention. Her last name is a pun, as Teppich means "carpet" in German. My favorite French teacher at Indiana University was a man.
The phone call to Alan is an invention. When David and I were separated during the year before we married, we did indeed write to each other, as Elizabeth and Alan do, but we also telephoned each other quite often, always at David's expense. I don't know how he afforded the huge phone bills. E-mail and cell phones make current communication between separated lovers vastly easier and cheaper.
I really did like J.'s apartment in Bloomington, Indiana, and felt quite at home there. However, it was much smaller and more modest than Brian's imagined house.
Ch. 13 - Mama Fitz / Pauline / Kevin MacIntyre / Donnie's invitation
My maternal grandmother was not very much like Mama Fitz, but the excessive rouge incident is based very loosely on something that once happened with my Great-Aunt Leonore, who was my grandmother's youngest sister and the person for whom I was named. She died several years ago, and I miss her greatly.
I do like club sandwiches, and used to love going to drugstore and dimestore soda fountains in the 1950s and 1960s. Some of them offered surprisingly good food for very reasonable prices. Hot fudge sundaes were a great weakness of mine when I was a child. I spent almost all my modest allowance money on sweets and comic books. I guess not that much has changed, as I still spend far too much money on coffee, pastries, and books.
Brian's recollections of his childhood with his sister Pauline are almost a complete invention. However, I remember some fun times with my sisters at the public pool in Greenville, Mississippi, where my mother is from, and where we used to spend a good part of every summer. My mother used to be able to swim and dive rather well. I can swim, but can't dive worth a darn.
Kevin MacIntyre, Elizabeth's smarmy German professor, is based on a real person, now dead.
The Augsburg Inn is loosely modeled on the Gasthaus Ridgeview, a now defunct German restaurant in the Denver area. We were very sorry when it closed. They used to serve terrific roast goose during a good part of every December.
Sarabeth Winslow is loosely based on a real person. It's true that I've never touched any drugs stronger than tobacco, alcohol, and a single tablet of Benzedrine. Marijuana and the harder stuff never interested me, as I always preferred reality. Plus, I was afraid of getting hooked and/or arrested. I never smoked except for a very brief time when I was in my twenties, and nowadays, I don't drink, either. (See notes for Ch. 8.) I miss the taste of alcohol, but not its effects.
Donnie Digiorgio is loosely based on a real person, as is Jean, her lesbian roommate, whom you meet in Chapter 18. The two women were friends with David when he was in graduate school. The real "Donnie" was a sweet, pretty, very talented person. David took a camping trip across Canada with her and some other friends the summer before we were married. That was the start of his continuing love of Canada. We both think that Victoria, British Columbia is the most beautiful city we've ever seen.
The real "Jean" was one of David's most jovial drinking buddies. It was she who persuaded David to propose to me at last, which he did by telephone from a Bloomington bar, The Regulator. I was in Mobile at the time. He says he was drunk when he proposed, but I knew he meant it. We've been married for almost 38 years thus far.
All the Donnie/Brian stuff is made up, of course, as Brian is invented.
Ch. 14 - Brian in his garden at night
This is my own favorite chapter in the book, perhaps because it's totally fictional. As I was writing it, I was filled with both the magic of the moonlit garden and the emotion of Brian's loss and longings. It's astonishing how real such fictional scenes can seem even to their writers.
Ch. 15 - The jewelry store
I love jade and minerals in general. In order to do some research on jade for this book, I went to a local suburban jewelry store, where the owner kindly showed me all that Brian is shown. The man also educated me on the history of gold chain manufacturing, which has been revolutionized by computers. The unhappy wife in the back room, however, is fictional.
My acquaintance Karen Wenrich, Ph.D., a geologist, was a huge help with making sure I had accurate information on jade. She provided me with copious written information, and also proofread and critiqued this chapter.
Ch. 16 - The Augsburg Inn / Two very different recollections
I once owned an elegant dress plus jacket outfit much like the one Elizabeth wears, but I long ago stopped wearing clothes like that. Now I prefer sporty, casual clothing, the Eddie Bauer, L.L. Bean, or Lands' End look. I just wish the last-named company would fix the irritating misspelling of its name.
Brian's shopping spree with his parents is invented, but I do have fond memories of a shopping trip with my mother when I was a teenager, during which she unexpectedly bought me both the dresses I liked, vs. just one. And one time in my life, in a Denver department store, I received personal attention like that afforded Brian. It was quite a treat. Then I got too fat to wear the lovely and expensive clothes I bought, sigh.
J. never gave me any present as expensive as Elizabeth's jade elephant pendant, but I like and still treasure the two small presents he did give me, a pair of silver earrings and a little wooden bear. The latter now sits in my study.
The childhood trauma stuff here - buying the pitcher and glasses to go with the newly painted dining room and then watching them get ignored and broken - is all too real. This was a very tough section to write, but also cathartic. Art can definitely help one exorcise one's demons - or if not that, then at least it can help dilute the poison.
Ch. 17 - Donnie's recital
The skirt and blouse combination described at the beginning of the chapter was one of my favorites in real life. When we were in Germany, I had a beautiful royal-blue suit custom made for me, as tailoring was relatively inexpensive there at that time. It's the only tailor-made clothing I've ever owned. The suit was amazingly durable, and I wore it all through high school. The flowered blouse I describe in the novel was bought after we came back from Germany, but it matched the suit perfectly. To my very pleased surprise, a long-lost and recently re-found German friend, Uwe zum Hingst, e-mailed me a photo of my much younger self wearing these clothes.
Although I can't remember the name of the real place, David and I did go to a few student recitals at Indiana University in an auditorium something like the one described here. In fact, we went to "Donnie's" Master's piano recital, which was terrific. I don't know what she played, though. Wayne Templeman, a well-known Denver cellist, helped me with this section of the book. He suggested numerous possible recital pieces, which I then listened to on records borrowed from the Auraria Library. I selected my favorite pieces and used them in the story. Of course all the material here having to do with Brian and Donnie is total fiction.
The flutist Annette is an invention. The flutists I've known in real life were very different sorts of women.
The Bread Board is based on a Bloomington eatery on Indiana Avenue, The Gables. Back in 1927, when Hoagy Carmichael (1899-1981) composed the popular song "Stardust" there, it was known as the Book Nook.
An important note: Anyone who attended the Bloomington campus of Indiana University in the 1960s must have realized by now that I was not terribly concerned with precisely representing the physical reality of the campus. I couldn't see that such accuracy really mattered for purposes of a novel.
Ch. 18 - Brian and Elizabeth meet Jean
This scene is all fiction. I had fun making up the details of the two sides of the living room. I could see the chaos vs. neatness very clearly in my mind's eye. There are parts of my present house that are just as different from each other. It's hard to say what that might indicate about my personality!
Ch. 19 - At Nick's / Donnie's revelations / Stevie and Philippe
This is another of my favorite chapters. My son commented that it reads like a short story, that it could stand on its own. But of course I didn't plan it that way. The main thing I remember is that I put a vast amount of time, energy, and emotion into writing it. All the dialogue is fictional.
The story of Jean's awful childhood and adolescence was not that of David's graduate school drinking buddy (see the notes for Ch. 13). It's loosely based on stories I was later told by other lesbians.
Stevie Weller is loosely based on a real friend, one with whom David and I have unfortunately lost touch. (S., if you're reading this, please write. We miss you.) However, as far as I know, the real and very cheerful "Stevie" had a good relationship with his family. My character's family trauma is based on a story told to me later by another gay friend.
Philippe is an invention, as is Cal Carter.
What happened to young Brian on the bus is based on something that happened to me on a streetcar in Italy when I was 14. But that man's rude, bold behavior was more annoying than anything else, and I wasn't nearly as freaked out by it as Brian was by his molester's behavior. Perhaps I would have reacted differently if I'd been younger.
Ch. 20 - Brian remembers Jane MacAllister, his high school sweetheart
Except for tiny details, this chapter is all fiction. I loved inventing Jane, and felt so sad for her and Brian! I suppose that many of us have similar stories of loss in our backgrounds.
Ch. 21 - Brian's Arizona plans / You mean I'm not the center of your universe after all?
This chapter is also almost all fiction.
The description of the classroom mob scene during the history exam is fairly accurate, insofar as I can remember back to my undergraduate studies at Indiana University. Now that I'm almost 60, those bygone years sometimes feel like another lifetime.
I tried to make Elizabeth at least a bit more sympathetic here.
J.-s Bloomington apartment didn't have a separate study, but I did leave him a written message at the end of our time together. I wonder if he still has it? I keep almost all the letters and notes and cards that people write to me.
Ch. 22 - The picnic in Brown County
This chapter is almost all fiction.
As anyone who has spent time in Indiana knows, Brown County exists, and hiking and spelunking (caving) opportunities abound. I did very small amounts of both when I lived there. I've done a lot more hiking here in Colorado, where David and I have lived since 1971 - or rather, we used to hike a lot. In recent years, our weekends have been filled with work and writing. I do lots of weight training, and walk both outdoors and on our treadmill, but hiking is something we do all too seldom now, usually only with our rare visitors from out of state.
I used to like picnics, but now much prefer restaurant meals. David and I are both very sensitive to the sun, so we tend to prefer indoor activities.
The one semi-autobiographical detail here is Elizabeth's rumination on her parents' bad relationship. My parents were divorcing when David and I were married in 1968. My father remarried, but my mother never did.
Ch. 23 - Elizabeth tells Brian about Alan
The Brian/Elizabeth part of this chapter is fiction, but a few details here mirror reality.
David's parents used to be very prejudiced against non-Jews. We didn't tell them we were getting married until after the fact.
Regarding religion: David was raised Orthodox Jewish (his father is a retired rabbi), and I was raised Roman Catholic. However, we've both been atheists for many decades. Both of us now view all religion as superstition. Click here to read David's essay "Why I Am Not a Jew." (Please, dear religious reader, don't waste any time or energy trying to convert us. We made up our minds on this topic a very long time ago.) As David has wisely observed, in order to have a happy marriage, it's important to have both similar likes and similar dislikes. We've been very lucky in that regard, as our interests, tastes, and opinions are quite amazingly similar.
Ch. 24 - Elizabeth in the bathtub with philosophy on the brain
Once again, all the Brian/Elizabeth interaction is fiction, but some of the views expressed here mirror my own. I took several philosophy courses at Indiana University. I was greatly impressed by John Dewey, Lucretius, John Stuart Mill, Michel Montaigne, and Friedrich Nietzsche, among others.
This really is the way I tended to talk back then, steeped as I was in bunches of serious intellectual ideas. As my parents paid for my education at Indiana University, I also had the time to do lots of reading, thinking, and talking with other equally serious and self-absorbed young people. This is the sort of thing we often discussed.
Ch. 25 - Elizabeth and Brian in her apartment / The little boy in the laundromat
This is all fiction, except that Elizabeth's apartment vaguely resembles the last one I had in Bloomington. I shared it with a fellow German major named Carolyn. She gave me the copy of the works of Heinrich von Kleist which is mentioned in Ch. 3 in the novel. Carolyn studied rather more than I did, spent a year in Hamburg, and ended up getting a Ph.D. in German and teaching on the university level somewhere. (Carolyn, if you've found this commentary, please write and tell me how you are. I still have the Kleist book.)
Ooh, I do hate packing books! Thank goodness I've usually had a man around to help with the task. David is loads better at it than I am. I hate to think what that task would be like if we ever left this house, as we now have 27 large bookcases, most of them filled to capacity.
The laundromat scene is fiction, but we've all observed people like the fat woman and her pitiful, abused, neurotic little son.
Ch. 26 - A take-out lunch / Elizabeth's pictures / More clashing views
The dialogue between Brian and Elizabeth is all fiction, but some other details in this chapter are drawn from my life.
Yum, I wish we had a Bread Board nearby! I loved writing the various food scenes. They always made me hungry.
I own some of the pictures described. The black-and-white photo of myself as a very young girl sits on my desk at home.
I represented Alan as rather hunkier than David was as a young man. David's much more built up now, at the age of 62. He was amused and flattered by my fictional exaggeration.
I tried to balance Elizabeth's harsh views on ceremony and public holidays with Brian's milder, more conventional ones. Hers are much closer to my own and David's, though. Now my overall attitude is: Don't try to push your views on me, and I won't try to push mine on you.
Ch. 27 - The long goodbye
This chapter is almost all fiction. My parting from J. was both warmer and sadder than Elizabeth's from Brian.
Years ago, I did go through a rather lengthy period during which I regretted never having been financially independent and self-sufficient. As did so many other young women of my generation, I went from home to college to marriage. Now I consider myself supremely lucky to have been married for almost 38 years to the same wonderful, supportive, loving man. David and I grow happier year by year. I'm also glad I had Daniel when I did, at the age of 22. As of this writing, he's almost 37 and is studying for his PhD in Biostatistics at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He's also a writer. With David, he coauthored a Star Trek novel, The Captains' Honor (Pocket Books, 1989), and Dawn Crescent, an alternate history novel (Wildside Press, 2003).
Ch. 28 - Brian back home / Reconciliation
This chapter is almost all fiction.
Our cat Rhodesia (see notes on Ch. 6) was in fact quite changeable. Her affectionate moods never lasted long, and she slept in many different places in the apartment. She abandoned her two newborn kittens, foisting them off on our other cat, Zambia, who gave birth to her own five kittens just 24 hours later. Our all-time favorite pet was a big, sweet, red-gold dog named Ruby. He died a few years ago. We have no animals now.
I have a few binders full of class notes like the ones described, but they're considerably less orderly than Brian's. This kind of organization represents my scholastic ideal.
I do love seeing people holding hands.
Haven't we all dreamed - literally - of lost or longed-for love?
Final notesThe above information was updated in February of 2006.
Do you have a favorite part of the book? Please write and let me know. I very much enjoy getting readers' reactions.
Here are my various addresses:
Leonore H. Dvorkin
E-mail: [email protected]