Back in the stone-age days of the early 80s, I worked for Redbook magazine, which taught young married women how to manage the physicality of home, family, kitchen, marriage, and children. The editorial content supposedly reflected the nuances of women’s lives and covered relationship topics such as friendships or loss of loved ones. Sometimes their articles even touched job-loss or difficult in-laws, but “problems” were usually sugar-coated and often had the unreal feel of Hallmark Cards.
In 1985 I moved to Savvy Woman magazine as its publisher. Savvy was the magazine for the women executives—a new phenomenon for those females “allowed” to play with the big boys in their sandbox.
Common to both types of magazines was the fact that none recognized the anguish of women who had failed to find a mate, or had coupled with the wrong man in a marriage that was ending in divorce. Nor was the word “custody” ever mentioned. Whether a homemaker or a CEO of a public company, there was an assumption of happiness within the context of a husband and children.
I always worked in the business side of magazines, never the editorial. But I asked questions. Redbook editors had told me that it would be “a kiss of death” for a magazine to touch the topic of divorce, let alone abuse, court, or lawyers. And in Savvy Woman magazine, we published a study proving how sexually satisfied executive women were in spite of their busy lives. Only a few of years ago, the then-Editor-in-Chief (and still my friend), Wendy Reid Crisp, described the fraudulent way in which this study had been obtained—and how she had been pressured by the magazine’s management to publish it. Executive women were shattering the glass ceiling with their heads. The truth was that they were lonely, unhappy, and had little sex.
We trusted magazines. Women’s magazines were our friends, our companions. I loved their feel, their fresh smell of ink that even perfume samples failed to ruin. It was disappointing to read the blasting indictment by Myrna Blyth, the former Editor-in-Chief of Ladies’ Home Journal for over 20 years, of women’s magazines and their exploitation of women’s insecurities and dreams….
In the 1990s, I left the business world to become a full-time fiction writer. I had always been an avid reader of novels—a slow reader, I must say, as I mouthed the music of sentences and heard in my head the rhythm of paragraphs, waiting for that wonderful concert of senses in the form of a story that grabbed me and wouldn’t let go, sometimes for year!
Novels capture you in quite the opposite way than magazines do. Rather than seeking information and “how-to” guidance, you approach a novel for the entertainment value, for the intellectual stimulation. You know it is fiction, it is not real, and you hope it would give you an emotional thrill. A good story is artistically woven with universal emotions under the pressure-cooker of seemingly real-life crises, and it carries you into this fictional world with all its trials and tribulations. Suddenly you care. At the end, you are inspired and encouraged, because when you embark upon a journey with the protagonist, you ride along the twists-and-turns in a condensed real-life manner, and you discover or redefine truths along with her.
Truth is a must in fiction. Only the characters and personal events relating to the protagonist are fictionalized. The emotions must be real. The way information is being doled out must be sincere.
And if divorce or death, or betrayal, or misery, or custody battle, or social injustice happen in fiction, it is because real life is filled with roads of no returns. As Nola, the protagonist of one of my novels, CHINA DOLL, discovered: the most common denominator of people are the emotions of separations and losses.
And that emotional truth is the basis of a good novel.
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Author Talia Carner's new novel is JERUSALEM MAIDEN (HarperCollins, June 2011.) It depicts the struggle of a young woman between her passion for art and her society's religious dictates. Please check www.TaliaCarner.com .