Ear­li­er this week, Ayelet Gun­dar-Goshen con­fessed to the first sto­ry she ever stole. With this week’s release of her sec­ond nov­el, Wak­ing Lions, Ayelet is guest blog­ging for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeo­ple.

Peo­ple usu­al­ly imag­ine authors writ­ing in silence and soli­tude, but the truth is that there’s noth­ing more crowd­ed than the room of a writer.

When I write a sex­u­al scene I have my dead grand­moth­er in front of my desk, telling me not to for­get my man­ners. Some­times it’s my par­ents, telling me to stop writ­ing about fam­i­ly prob­lems, or it’s the crit­ics, the audi­ence, the woman from the book­store, my ex, my part­ner, my baby daugh­ter. All of them stand behind me when I write and demand, Why did you write this?

After my first nov­el was pub­lished, the choir inside my head became loud­er than ever. Peo­ple kept ask­ing about the next nov­el. My grand­moth­er called on a dai­ly basis to warn me: Don’t name any char­ac­ter in your next nov­el after my friends — not even a cat!” For a while, I was com­plete­ly silenced, par­a­lyzed by all those crit­i­cal voic­es. And then I remem­bered a sen­tence I had once heard, and have often recalled since: Telling a secret to a writer is like giv­ing a hug to a pick­pock­et.” Of all the pock­ets I’ve put my hand in, the most ter­ri­ble secret was the one I learned in India.

It was ten years ago, in the Himalayas. He was a blue-eyed Israeli back­pack­er who just sat in the guest­house and stared into space, night after night. He didn’t speak with any of the oth­er back­pack­ers, didn’t drink or eat. It took me two days to real­ize that he didn’t sleep either. That’s when I went to him and asked whether he was all right.

He told me that sev­er­al days ago he had hit a home­less Indi­an man with his motor­cy­cle, and fled.

He didn’t look like a bad man. More like a kid. He had a gui­tar on his back, an unas­sum­ing face. In just a few months he would start uni­ver­si­ty. And though I want­ed to be 100% sure that I could nev­er do a thing like that, I wasn’t sure any­more. Prison in India can be an unpleas­ant place. A man can end his life in prison. Would I have stayed at the scene of crime, or is there a place with­in me that would also pan­ic, think only of the con­se­quences, and escape?

I decid­ed to trans­pose the high­ly charged expe­ri­ence I had had in India to the sto­ry of refugees escap­ing Africa into Israel.The pro­tag­o­nist of the nov­el, Dr. Eitan Green, returns from a night shift at a Beer­she­ba hos­pi­tal when he acci­den­tal­ly hits an Eritre­an refugee. He’s afraid for his fam­i­ly, for his career as a sur­geon, and when he sees that the man is beyond help, he leaves him there. The next day, the refugee’s wife knocks at the door, and starts black­mail­ing him.

When Wak­ing Lions was pub­lished I thought about that guy I met in the Himalayas. Israel is a small coun­try — is he here, in Tel Aviv? Does he rec­og­nize his own sto­ry in the novel?

Dur­ing the course of writ­ing, a strange thing hap­pened: as I changed the loca­tion from India to Israel, the sto­ry became clos­er to the world I knew. And the clos­er the sto­ry got the more per­son­al it became. Instead of look­ing at that guy from the Himalayas, I start­ed look­ing at myself — would I be able to do what he did, or what Eitan did? If I hit some­one while dri­ving back home to my fam­i­ly late at night, and thought I could nev­er be caught, am I absolute­ly sure I wouldn’t flee the scene?

A writer is like a pick­pock­et: they what belongs to oth­ers and make it their own. But by doing that they are inevitably caught, not by the police, but by their own sto­ry. You think you write about oth­er peo­ple, cheat­ing or deceiv­ing or com­mit­ting a crime, but it’s always you who’s com­mit­ting the crime, as you merge with your pro­tag­o­nist. And the read­er, sit­ting on his couch, iden­ti­fy­ing with the char­ac­ters, is com­mit­ting the same crime with you, in his own liv­ing room.

Ayelet Gun­dar-Goshen is the author of The Liar and Wak­ing Lions, which won the Jew­ish Quar­ter­ly – Wingate Prize, was a New York Times Notable Book, and has been pub­lished in sev­en­teen coun­tries. She is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist, has worked for the Israeli civ­il rights move­ment, and is an award-win­ning screen­writer. She won Israel’s pres­ti­gious Sapir Prize for best debut.