On Truthful Stories

Our lives are seasoned with sayings and quotes that people have shared along the way, and they may have a greater influence than we realize. At a recent book club meeting to discuss my novel, The Truthful Story, I was asked where the title came from, and I explained how my grandmother always used to say those words in a very convincing, hushed tone as if you were the lucky one who gets to hear what comes next. She’d say to me “Now, the truthful story is…,” using that phrase to prepare me for a story or perspective that needed to be told, and in her case, a “truthful story” didn’t mean proven, scientific facts as seen by the naked eye, but rather something that far surpasses that human outcry for validation. The truthful story resonates deep within you in a way that needs no defense or explanation. It defies our struggle to apply common sense and celebrates natural instinct and insight. The truthful story exists for the pure purpose of escorting in something below the surface, and it’s different from other stories. As the character of 11-year-old Genevieve says in the novel, “You’ll recognize it because it has a special message inside of it, and if you listen close, you’ll find out what it really means. If you use its special powers, the words will jump out from the story and land inside of you and live there forever.”

Having said that, I’ve noticed that many writers and artists of all kinds are driven by their ‘truthful stories”. Sometimes we as observers or readers don’t know right away all that the painting or the sculpture or the film or the novel is showing us. But you know when it hits you as something powerful because you can’t shake it, and you keep coming back to it over and over, and each time you do, you take more and more from it. It really does live on inside of you forever. That’s what Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1841 essay “Self-Reliance” did for me. My now adult children remember me quoting often from Emerson, and I started doing that early, when they were too young to understand what it meant. Somehow, though, just by the way I delivered this message to them, they knew it was important. Tucking them into bed, I would place their hands on their hearts and say, “Trust thyself. Every heart vibrates to that iron string.” I would feel their little hearts beating fast, and I would whisper in their ears a truthful story. Trust yourself, your mind, your heart, your feelings. That is what you are made of, and you are not like anyone else in the entire world. Have the courage to be the best you you can be. No one can do it better.

When I wrote The Truthful Story, I was reminded of the enormous impact that writers and artists have had on me, and the messages they have delivered to my heart—messages no one will ever be able to touch or see. And that is perfectly fine with me. In my book, after young Genevieve reads The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, she asks her father about a particular passage that has been underlined. It says, “Here is my secret. It is very simple; It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” Genevieve’s father explains to her what he thinks it means,  “…and he said it was like how he loved me. ‘You can’t see love,’ he said, ‘but you can feel it, and you can’t live without it.’ ” And Genevieve knew exactly what he meant.