Five years ago Lynn Coady published a novel with a protagonist drawn partially from the life of a real, thirty-years-deceased poet, and a experienced firsthand earful from an audience full of the poet’s colleagues and friends. It wasn’t all ugly, but it was complicated, as feedback focused almost entirely on either the novel’s too-close-for-comfort portrait or its occasional sharp departures from the character’s real-life inspiration.
There’s not much strategy to discerning how often or to what extent characters are drawn from reality, and maybe no purpose to it, either. In that particular reading, Cody stumbled upon the writer’s ‘nightmare’ accusation of plagiarism, but has since developed her perspective. She says, “This is not necessarily the answer people want, but ultimately I think writing is an amoral process. Your ultimate responsibility is to the truth of the story you’re trying to tell.” And not, perhaps, to the one that’s already been lived by another.