Truth in Fiction
Hi all – after blogging every day for the month of December, I needed to take a little time to recuperate, but I missed you, and I’m ready to get back on schedule.
The Long Way Home has been out for a few months now, and hopefully you all have either read the book (if you haven’t read it what are you waiting for?) or you’ve at least read enough about it on this blog to understand that the setting of the book is based on a combination of the small towns I’ve lived in. But there’s a difference between what’s real and what’s true in that though I didn’t lift this story directly from a real place or person (that would make it non-fiction), I did work very hard to be true to the types of places and people I’ve known. Sometimes real and true can be the same things, but sometimes they have a looser connection. For instance, it’s both real and true that I lived in a small town. That small town is a real place with chili parlor and small college. However, that college doesn’t really have a lesbian librarian (or if it does, her husband and sons sure don’t know it), but it is true that a small college library could harbor liberals just waiting for the right moment to surprise people who’ve walked those stacks 100 times.
You see, I used to sneak off to the college library when I was in high school. The college seemed so different from the town, and the people who belonged to each place rarely interacted. No one ever seemed to notice me slipping in and finding a quiet spot upstairs to flip through old issues of Newsweek. No one knew who I was or tried to find out. They didn’t care what I was I was doing or what I was thinking. It was the only place I didn’t feel like I was under the microscope, and even while I didn’t know to look for anything gay in those stacks, I always felt like I wasn’t being judged there. When I wrote Beth’s character, it was only natural for me to put her in a library, because while it wasn’t exactly a real place, I was able to be true to the way I felt about college libraries.
Then last fall while visiting Illinois I got the urge to visit that library again, a little bit of nostalgia mixed with a desire to see if that real place held true to the way I portrayed the library in The Long Way Home. While sitting upstairs I noticed the Newsweeks had been moved and the fiction section put in its place. The temptation to check the true against the real was too much. I started scanning the shelves for the books Beth gives Raine’s students in The Long Way Home. I started with Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray figuring that was the safest bet, and found it.
Then moving on to Virgina Wolf’s Orlando. Since the book is generally considered to have “literary merit” despite being claimed by the gays, I wasn’t terribly surprised to find it as well.
The next book Beth points out is Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin, and it’s also another “literary” classic, so I thought I might find it there, though it did occur to me that a black and gay author might be pushing it just a bit. And yet, there it was.
Finding three out of the five books I’d listed in The Long Way Home wasn’t a bad record given that this was a real library without a real lesbian, but I decided to go for broke. Surely they didn’t have that paragon of lesbian feminism called Ruby Fruit Jungle. And yet, there it was.
I was kind of giddy. There had to be a liberal feminist somewhere on that campus. Did they have women’s studies department? Clearly I had underestimated that little bitty college library. I was happy to have found almost every book Beth recommended to Raine’s students. What was true and what was real were coming together almost perfectly. In fact they were so close that I almost left it at that. I mean, why end on a low note? They had gay classics, gay African American classics, feminist classics, even a lesbian feminist classic, there was no need to actually push for a purely lesbian book. This was still middle of nowhere Illinois after all
Still, I’d come this far, so it seemed a shame to leave without looking for the big Kahuna. Besides, how could I attend Lee Lynch’s upcoming wedding and tell her I found all the other books I’d listed, but stopped short of looking for hers, or was that better than looking and not finding it? The library had already exceeded my expectations. Couldn’t I just leave it at that? No. I needed to know.
I turned down the row for “L” authors, chuckling at the fact that I was looking for a capital L lesbian. And look what I found.
Seriously, that is Sweet Creek by Lee Lynch complete with its official library bar code there for anybody to check out. It’s not Toothpick House, which is the book Beth chooses in The Long Way Home, but it is an unabashedly lesbian book, by an unabashedly lesbian author. I was simultaneously overjoyed and saddened that I’d spent all those afternoons being the gay kid reading Newsweeks in the corner to avoid being noticed when I could’ve been the gay kid reading Lee Lynch books in the corner to connect with my community.
What had been true for me, and what I hoped would ring true for everyone who read The Long Way Home, now gets to be real for every gay kid who goes to that tiny library in my little hometown hoping to find a bit of truth in fiction.
P.S. Lest you get any ideas that the place I’m describing is actually a bastion of liberalism and education, I had to take this picture for you.
And here’s super fun librarian video to kick off your weekend.