Monday, January 21, 2008

Writer Impossible: Revealed

Bodega Bay, CA

As the writer crafts a story, a good portion of his experience is poured into it. From setting to characters, they come from places he's been, people he's met. But as he writes, increasingly he becomes uncomfortable and is confronted with the age old question: how much of myself do I reveal?

For what the writer inevitably finds out is that the more he writes, the more he finds out about himself, his life, how he feels.

This isn't always an easy situation. What will people say, what will his parents think --it doesn't matter that he is over fifty. Will anyone identify themselves, his friends, his children?

A few years ago in a workshop, a former child actress --of whom I'd never heard of and was unrecognizable even to me, wrote a story with a hateful father, a weak protagonist, predictable men, and lots of smoking. Smoking in cars, smoking in bars, the smoke serving as a substitute for diversity of thought. At 300 pages, the writer worried if her work would upset too many people.

"Like who?" someone asked, after reading yet another very long scene that takes place in a car (this is Southern California, where most thought happens behind the wheel).
"My father," she said.
Yet because of her feelings, the father character was the strongest in her story. By comparison, her protagonist was flat, unsympathetic, was in fact, too weak to carry the book without the help of a cigarette, a glare and a car. Perhaps her bigger need was to ask "what is my character feeling beyond I-hate-him?" And to do this, she needed to ask herself the same.
Self discovery at 75 miles per hour. Flesh those characters out. Take them beyond the reality of the inspiration behind the people you know. This is fiction, so free yourself up and give them a soul.

Perhaps the most wry and best summation was written by Guggenheim and NEA award winning writer Thomas Farber in his hauntingly subtle twenty year old book about writing, "Compared to What? On Writing And The Writer's Life:"
"Am I in your book?" she asked.
"No kiddo, no," he replied. "Not unless you want to be."

"Compared to What?" is out of print, available used. However, some of the contents have been rolled into A Lover's Quarrel, On Writing & The Writing Life, reissued by Ellsberg Books, available through Amazon.

His latest book, A Lover's Question, Selected Stories ,published by Ellsberg Books, available through Amazon.
...quietly devastating. The people in these stories stay with you, and in fact you begin to run into them everywhere you go. --Rolling Stone