Is everything in a novel real?

I've heard that all authors write about their own lives. That every story is, in its heart, autobiographical. Maybe, it's just that we writers live in our stories so deeply, they become our lives. That's what I think. No, what I know.

If I can't live in the book, see the characters, hear them talking to one another, it's doomed. Both as a reader and as an author, I long for that immersion. When it happens, I want to shout out loud to everyone I know, even to strangers, that they MUST read this book. It doesn't happen often. Themes of courage, honor, perseverance in the face of astounding adversity, when done even half-well, suck me in. When we live in someone else's skin through a book, we become them for the space of those words on the page. We are blessed by that experience.

I suppose that's why I decided in eighth grade to become a lawyer. (Despite my English teacher's lecture that women couldn't be lawyers.) Reading To Kill a Mockingbird showed me the power of an honorable lawyer, willing to take a case that wasn't, even in its best light, winnable. I took that lesson to heart.

Many years later, new law degree in hand, I was appointed, as young lawyers were in those days, to represent an indigent mentally handicapped woman that the state wanted to sterilize. Law school hadn't taught me about the difference between the purity of the law it taught and the real practice of law. The system in Virginia had been sterilizing mentally challenged
people for years. I'd never heard of such a thing, and was shocked by the proceedings. I was there just to keep up appearances. I wasn't expected to even say anything, I was informed.

It never happened again. I had plenty to say whenever I was appointed by the court again to some small proceeding. I can't say it made any difference, but I had to be truthful to my inner Atticus.

I just wished I'd been able to effect change. Time took care of most of it.