Monthly Archives: October 2013

Play-Doh rainbow

Mirror, Morph, and Make-Believe: Crafting Fiction from Real Life

Play-Doh rainbow

When I tell people that my novel, Nanny on the Run, is based on my summer of 1977, I’m sometimes asked, “What percentage of the book is true?”

The answer is difficult to quantify.

Like Bridget, I was a nanny on the run in New York City in 1977. The guts of my experience are what I used to shape the fiction that is Bridget’s story. And fiction it is. I began the story years ago. Then, in 2002, The Nanny Diaries hit the shelves. Not wanting my work in progress to be viewed as a copycat novel, I started over. I wrote my true story—but changed the names of some of the key players.

I finished the memoir in 2005. After an unsuccessful attempt to find an agent or publisher, I tucked my manuscript away. I hadn’t intended to write the truth anyway, so it seemed fitting to box up the pages and slide them under my bed. The end, I thought.

Instead, it was only a hiatus. In 2010, I began anew. Rather than resurrecting my previous fiction, I started over. That result, Nanny on the Run, was published nearly six months ago.

When I contemplate Bridget’s story, I think about the Play-Doh 3-packs of my youth.


I envision yellow as my life, blue and red as fiction. Bridget’s story is a patchwork of yellow—those places where her story mirrors mine; green—blue mixed with yellow to symbolize the places where my story undergoes change and morphs into Bridget’s; and purple—a blend of red and blue to signify where Bridget’s story is purely make-believe.

Mirror, morph, and make-believe

My intent to not tell my true story carries through to today. When asked questions about me or my summer, my M.O. is to steer my answers back to Bridget and her story. But I will tell you this. Three parallels between Bridget’s summer and mine are that we each felt like fish out of water. We were treated like servants. And both of us left without saying goodbye.

As for bits of yellow? Bridget and I share the same hula hoop record. We both were candy stripers. And each of our dads were Golden Gloves boxers in their youth. But mine was tougher.