Sheldon Vanauken described this novel as follows:
"Gateway to Heaven is a work of fiction. A story created in the imagination. Neither Mary's character and personality nor her experiences are modelled upon those of anybody I have ever known. Nor are Richard's. Mary's poems are what the Mary who lives only in these pages--a Mary, be it remembered, who is more girl than woman--would have written. Similarly, the other characters are imagined and no reference to anyone else is intended. Often it seemed best to locate certain adventures in places--hotels or harbours, caves or coves, dining places or dancing places--that were wholly imagined. Finally let it be said that, quite apart from being a love story, this book is conceived to be a tale of high romance, which may loosely be taken to imply ladies fair and knights on quest and roast dragon for dinner." Author's Note at the beginning of Gateway to Heaven
In one of his letters to me Van said: "I'll look forward to your (and perhaps your wife's) comment on Gateway. I was determined, because of all Davy had told me of what it was to be a girl/woman in the world, to truly create (sub-create) a girl-woman which few men have really done in literature. One of my poems, "The Sword" is an earlier attempt to do that . . . making Veronica a Roman officer's wife just arrived in Jerusalem, he being a Tribune of the Tenth Legion, stationed in Palestine."
In another letter he said, "I expect novelists ought not to write autobiographies. Anyway, do not make the mistake of supposing that because Oxford and Virginia and Greece and Hawaii enter in that the book is veiled autobiography: not at all! But if a novelist wishes to catch the spirit of place, it must be a place he knows. And the kind of love he has known. I could not write about golfing but I can of sailing. But the characters and individual houses, etc. and situations are all created."