How Real Life Becomes a Novel
by Nancy Lieberman, author of Admissions (Warner Books)
The impetus behind my writing Admissions was not a conscious desire on my part to become a novelist. Rather, it evolved from the powerful need I had to tell this story. I was fortunate in that the issue in which I was interested coincided with the zeitgeistmost baby-boomers are as obsessed with their children's education as I am.
Many years ago, when my child was born, people began to ask me where I wanted to send her to school. As a successful New York couple my husband and I assumed that our daughter would attend whatever school we chose for her, never entertaining the possibility that might be easier said than done. I was an art dealer, my husband a television writer/producer and we both went through life with an attitude that whatever we wanted, within the limits of our financial means, we could have. It came as a shock to us to learn that the New York private school world was an exclusive enclave about which we knew very little. As we began to speak to friends with children our anxiety rapidly increased. By the time our daughter was ready for pre-school, we were frenzied.
People want to know how much of Admissions is based on actual events and real people. There are two parts to my answer. Admissions is entirely fiction. But the second half of my answer is more revealing as to the content of my novel; I am a collector of stories. I have lived in Manhattan for twenty-five years and confess to being a voyeur. One of my favorite activities is riding the cross-town bus at 8:00am and 4:00pm. That is the bus that every weekday is packed to the gills, transporting children to and from school. I like nothing better than eavesdropping, mentally recording the remarkable conversations that take place between privileged teenagers with thirty pound backpacks and iPods, Jamaican care-givers, and mothers and their toddlers. One couldnt make-up this dialogue. Other fruitful locations for me have been nail salons, the line at Zabar's, the waiting room of the orthodontist's office and the floor of my gym. I also have dozens of friends with school age children who have generously shared their anecdotes.
My source of inspiration and information greatly expanded once my daughter was finally, after much sturm und drang, enrolled in a New York City private school. Somehow my status there skyrocketed and I rapidly climbed the ranks to be elected Chair of The Parents Association and later, member of The Board of Trustees. Then I had true inside access and my repertoire grow geometrically. From my perch I witnessed behavior, particularly on the part of crazed New York parents, that further fed my growing disbelief. This was the stuff of novels.
I am currently re-reading Thackeray's Vanity Fair and am struck by the similarities between my characters and nineteenth century British aristocracy. This suggests to me that there is universality and timelessness to my story. Yes it is set in twenty-first century Manhattan but it could just as well be Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston or Omaha. Parents everywhere want whats best for their children and will frequently do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal. Admissions honestly illustrates just how far I have seen them go.
Posted with permission of the publisher.