I enjoyed reading Robert Kolker’s “Who Is the Bad Art Friend?”, specifically about the non-symmetric relationships of fiction and inspiration.
Larson’s biggest frustration with Dorland’s accusations was that they stole attention away from everything she’d been trying to accomplish with this story. “You haven’t asked me one question about the source of inspiration in my story that has to do with alcoholism, that has to do with the Chinese American experience. It’s extremely selective and untrue to pin a source of a story on just one thing. And this is what fiction writers know.” To ask if her story is about Dorland is, Larson argues, not only completely beside the point, but ridiculous. “I have no idea what Dawn is thinking. I don’t, and that’s not my job to know. All I can tell you about is how it prompted my imagination.”
When Larson discusses “The Kindest” now, the idea that it’s about a kidney donation at all seems almost irrelevant. If that hadn’t formed the story’s pretext, she believes, it would have been something else. “It’s like saying that ‘Moby-Dick’ is a book about whales,” she said. As for owing Dorland a heads-up about the use of that donation, Larson becomes more indignant, stating that no artist has any such responsibility. “If I walk past my neighbor and he’s planting petunias in the garden, and I think, Oh, it would be really interesting to include a character in my story who is planting petunias in the garden, do I have to go inform him because he’s my neighbor, especially if I’m still trying to figure out what it is I want to say in the story? I just couldn’t disagree more.”
“[Dorland] might behave like the character in my story,” [Larsen] said. “But that doesn’t mean that the character in my story is behaving like [Dorland].”
Captain Awkward also had memorable advice:
Creatively speaking, I think you can generally write whatever you want about whoever you want. You do not owe people flattering portrayals in your fiction and you don’t owe the world a fair hearing of both sides. Even if you’re writing memoir, the expectation is that you’ll write the truth about your own experiences and recollections of events. So, when it’s just you and a blank page that nobody else will see? Name names. Settle scores. Spill some beans. Layer in all the carefully hoarded observations and details you’ve been saving up. You don’t have to solve publishing problems right this second, so feed the fire in your belly with your ex’s pet name for himself if that’s what gets it done; spite is motivating. You can always pull up a name generator later when you need to.
Ethically speaking, being free to write whatever you want does not mean being free of consequences from what you wrote. If you include recognizable details about real people in your published writing, fictional or otherwise, if you disclose confidential information about them (like mental health diagnoses), assume that somebody will connect the dots, and assume that the people you wrote about will eventually feel some kind of way about it. They may not have grounds to sue you, but they might think you are a bad person or a lazy artist, and they might tell their own stories where you are not the hero.