Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The lie that launched a writing career

 
by David Bell

Everyone who leaves a comment today will be entered in a drawing for a free copy of Cemetery Girl, David Bell’s critically acclaimed debut novel of psychological suspense. The book tells the story of a family whose daughter disappears when she is 12 and returns when she is 16 – but refuses to tell her parents or police where she has been or who she has been with. The parents’ quest for the truth threatens to tear the family apart.


The opening scene of my novel, Cemetery Girl, involves a flashback. The protagonist and narrator, Tom Stuart, remembers something that happened when his daughter, Caitlin, was six years old. She crossed the street without permission and was nearly hit by a car. When confronted with this, Caitlin does something unexpected. She lies. She tells her father that she didn’t cross the street and she wasn’t nearly hit by a car.

My book is fiction. I don’t have a daughter who disappeared. I’m not in a marriage that is falling apart because of my child’s disappearance. I don’t have a ne’r-do-well half-brother who the police look at with suspicion. So the book is a work of fiction, and little of it is true.

Except for that opening scene.

That really did happen to me.

When I was very little, maybe four years old, I was playing up the street with a group of neighborhood kids. When some of them wanted to cross the street, I went along with them, even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to. When I came home, my mom asked me if I had crossed the street without permission.

I lied. I flat-out, bald-faced lied to her.

“No,” I said.

Now my mom is no dummy. She’s almost eighty now, and she doesn’t miss a thing. She certainly didn’t miss anything when we were kids. But for some reason—maybe she was tired, maybe she had other things on her mind—she didn’t challenge my lie. And I know she knew the truth. I didn’t know it at the time, but years later when I looked back, I knew she knew. She was too smart, too vigilant. Why else would she ask me that question unless she knew? She knew. And she let it go.

That slice of my own life went into the book, and it ended up serving as an introduction to the themes and ideas depicted in the rest of the novel: Do we really know the people closest to us? Do we all carry secret desires and thoughts deep within, things we won’t share with our closest loved ones? What do parents do when their children start to break away and move beyond parental control? Can we protect our children from everything we want to protect them from?

I’ve never asked my mom about that moment from my childhood, that first moment I lied to her. Despite her sharpness, I’m not sure she would remember. After all, I suspect it was a bigger event for me than it was for her. For me, it was a watershed moment—I realized I could intentionally lie to someone in order to get away with something. I didn’t go on to be a pathological or habitual liar—unless you count fiction writing—but I understood something that day that I hadn’t before. Lying was a choice I could make.

But I’d like to think my mom had her own reasons for letting my lie go. Maybe she realized that kids will lie and exert their own independence, and there are limits to what parents can do. I’m the youngest of three children, so my mom had already been to the child-rearing rodeo two other times. She knew what kids could do and how they grew up. Maybe she recognized that letting me think about the lie on my own would provide graver consequences than if she chewed me out. My parents were very good at letting me make my own decisions and suffer my own consequences. It’s safe to say I probably feel more guilty about lying to my mom, even all these years later, because she let me stew in my own guilt.

For whatever reason, she left me alone that day. And years later, that moment stayed with me enough to serve as the start of Cemetery Girl. Maybe she wanted to launch me into my career as a writer. For whatever reason she did it, it worked.
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David Bell, a native of Cincinnati, Ohio, is a professor of English at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. Visit his website at http://www.davidbellnovels.com/. Leave a comment here today for a chance to win a copy of Cemetery Girl!

27 comments:

The English Teacher said...

Sounds like a fascinating book. I'd like to be entered in your contest.

Sheila Connolly said...

Was it the first lie you remember telling? (I won't ask if you never lied again.) I tried the same thing out on my mother, albeit in a non-life-threatening case: I told her I hadn't played with her make-up. Forensic evidence contradicted my story.

Both my sister and her son attended Western.

Front Deck Text said...

I would love to be entered in this contest -- as a professional storyteller, I work with "lies" all the time.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

David, ask your mom if she remembers. Even if she doesn't, it'll be an interesting conversation. My mother died 12 years ago at the age of 96, and we talked plenty, but there are things I still wish I had asked her when I could.

quirkfarms@msn.com said...

it does sound fascinating. and DID you ever lie again?

Harbingerdc said...

I'd really like to win this book. But, if I don't, I'm still going to read it.

Elizabeth V said...

You said you never asked your mother about your lie. I'm sure she doesn't even remember. That was a big deal to you, big enough that you remember it all these years later. But I'm sure that wasn't such a big deal to her.

I'll always remember an incident that happened when I was that age, too. It was and is still a big deal to me. But I'm sure no one but me remembers when I hit my playmate for no reason. I still can't believe I did that. If I ever see him again, I'll apologize. But I'm sure he won't even remember.

Nancy Adams said...

What a fascinating hook! I definitely will read your book, even if I don't win.

David Bell Novels said...

Hello everyone! Thanks for all the comments. You know, I have never asked my mom about it. She's almost eighty and in very good mental and physical health. Maybe I will now that it's in the book. She'd probably just roll her eyes at me if I admitted the lie. I'm the baby, so she has to show me mercy!

Have I ever lied again? Every day--I'm a fiction writer. But by and large, I'm pretty honest.

I hope you all enjoy CEMETERY GIRL.

Anonymous said...

Cemetary Girl sounds like a fascinating story - now I want to read it to find out the ending.

Helen K
hdkiker@comcast.net

Leslie Budewitz said...

Love the cover -- fascinating premise. Looking forward to a good read!

David Bell Novels said...

Thanks, Helen and Leslie--I was very lucky with the cover. It's awesome.

Sandra Parshall said...

It's one of the most intriguing covers I've ever seen.

Bergman said...

The first lie I remember--or thought worth remembering--was when I figured out there was no Santa. My mother told me that I had to pretend there was one, else I wouldn't get any presents. I was six when learned what my peers still can't grasp into their late twenties--the notion of a necessary fiction. I'm sorry if I spoiled Santa for anybody.

Allene said...

Sounds like a great book - I would love to win a copy. I found out, at an early age, that lies and story-telling are two separate issues but I never figured out why.

David Bell Novels said...

If you'd like to see the book trailer for the novel, check it out here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPxdiXa_QvE&feature=feedwll

Anonymous said...

I am going to have to read this book! Wow. Thanks for the interesting interview.

Thanks for the chance to possibly win it. It is always fun to try.

BrendaW.

Carol M said...

Sounds like your mom is a very smart woman! :)

This sounds like a story I would really enjoy! I, too, love the cover!

Thank you for the giveaway!

Carol-Lynn Rossel said...

Please enter me in the book drawing. Cemetery Girl looks fascinating.

pennyt said...

I guess we all tried a lie out on our parents - must be part of growing up. Sounds like a fascinating book - please enter my name in the drawing. Thank you.

Prentiss Garner said...

Sounds like a book I would like.

Julia Buckley said...

I had just seen your book advertised online and decided to order it when I saw this auspicious post!

Jody said...

This does sound like a fascinating book. I can remember being completely unable to lie to my mother, but I lied to a teacher once.

Sandra Parshall said...

Allene is the winner of the free copy of Cemetery Girl. Thanks to everyone who commented -- and the many, many more who read David's guest blog but didn't enter the drawing. I hope you'll all buy his book and/or ask your local library to order it.

David Bell Novels said...

Congratulations, Allene! Thanks for all the great comments, and I hope you check the book out and let me know what you think!

jenny milchman said...

I think the moment we realize we can lie to our parents is a kind of fall from grace. We can never undo that knowledge--and we don't necessarily want to have it, although perhaps it also frees us.

Your book sounds fascinating, and if I don't win a copy, I will buy one. Best of luck with the release!

David Bell Novels said...

Thanks, Jenny! Good point.