Monday, July 30, 2012

Let Me Preface This By Saying...

I am writing this note mainly for family and friends who may read the opus currently under production in my secret laboratory:

"The following is a work of fiction -- not autobiography, not biography, not history, not a personal journal or diary -- but fiction, plain and simple."

For those who have forgotten, fiction means that it is completely made up.

The reason I feel the need to stress this is that, like any writer, I am drawing upon real life to find the ingredients for this concoction. People who know me will notice specific autobiographical details in the two main male characters, but this in no way means that either of them is "really" me. They are not me; they are fictional characters. I have put something of myself in them to make them more real, more believable, and therefore more powerful as characters. But that just means that they have some of their creator's DNA. Each is his own unique and independent person.

Also, perhaps even more troubling, certain of my family and friends may be quite surprised to notice little bits of themselves in a given character, or perhaps a certain situation or event will seem remarkably similar to some real situation or event involving you and me.

If this happens, don't be alarmed. None of the characters is "really" you, and none of the situations or events in the book are meant to be dramatized re-creations of anything that happened in real life. To be completely accurate, I should say that the events in the book are not directly about events in real life; that is, it is not fictionalized autobiography. But the entire story is certainly about real life, and it is in some sense specifically about my life.

What I mean is that I am taking my entire life experience, my philosophy and my feelings, and am transforming them into art. It is about real life in the way that any novel is, and it is about my own life in the way that any writer's work is. The characters, situations, and events are not real, but they naturally bear some resemblance to real life, and naturally they even bear some resemblance to the real life that this author has lived. And yes, in some cases, I even take specific details from real life and real people and turn them into details of fictional life and fictional people. That is what writers do. The reasons for what details get included may not always be clear, even to the author. But inspiration leads where it may. So, if you see some tiny fragment of yourself or your life in my story, don't read too much into it; just feel flattered (I hope) that some exceedingly small part of you or your life ended up in a classic work of literature (well, a boy can dream, can't he?).

Writers are always told to "write what you know". In one sense this is unavoidable; in another sense it is impossible. It is unavoidable if you take "what you know" to include literally all of your experience, which most emphatically does not mean only what you have personally, directly experienced. I wouldn't want family and friends to think that I have done everything my characters have done, or that I share all of their views and sentiments. They are all other people to me, and I am reporting what they have done and said and thought, not what I have done and said and thought.

The mantra "write what you know" is impossible in the sense that you will be severely limited in what you can write if this is taken to mean only what you have directly experienced. Writers rarely actually do that; they research, they observe, they imagine, whatever it takes to fill in the blanks that are not supplied, and in some cases, cannot be supplied, by their actual lived experience.

While we're on that topic, I should also warn my more sensitive readers that this is not a G-rated novel. If it were a movie it would very definitely be R-rated. Any serious writer writing about real life in a serious way cannot sugarcoat reality; it must be shown as it is. That is the only way to make it real and effective and powerful -- that is, if one is writing a serious realistic novel with any aspiration toward literary quality and significance. My characters use the "f word", they drink too much, they take drugs, they engage in sexual practices that some would consider perverse, they condemn traditional religion. All of this is not there to be sensational or shocking. The Bible, after all, contains descriptions of behavior that would be considered quite shocking and repulsive by anyone's standards. All of these behaviors on the part of my characters are part and parcel of the story and its philosophical and moral meaning. Every word is there for a reason, even every "f word". As Martin Luther said, the devil is God's devil.

In comparison to a lot of what is out there, my book is actually quite tame in terms of behavior. Like I said, I am not in it for shock value or cheap sensationalism. I only put in what needs to be there in order to tell the story to its fullest power. But I do feel that, to many readers (not necessarily the more "sensitive" ones mentioned above, but perhaps especially to the most worldly among us) my book might be considered rather shocking in a way quite different from what people usually think of when they think of something shocking.

It would be very difficult, as well as undesirable, to attempt to explain what I mean without having you read the story itself. But suffice it to say that the shock I foresee, for at least some readers, lies not in superficial details of the story but in its underlying philosophy, and the hopefully powerful way in which that philosophy is expressed, which will make it all the more troubling for those who do not understand it. It is neither left nor right, far from conventional yet equally distant from what is commonly regarded as countercultural, and will no doubt seem strange and incomprehensible to many. I only barely understand it myself. It is a powerful new vision for me, and, like much else about this story, is not something I planned or even imagined prior to writing. It is something I am discovering as I continue to unravel the story and gradually realize where it's taking me.

The more I write this story, the more I feel that I have been blessed with something original and profound. It is something which only began fully revealing itself once I started writing the story earlier this month, rather than during the previous 13 years of imagining and planning, and feels more like a gift than an invention. I look forward to the remainder of this journey and the treasures I will continue to discover along the way, and I look forward all the more to sharing those treasures with you.

1 comment:

  1. I am looking forward to reading the final version.