Why I Write Fiction
Sometime last winter, I posted on a temporary page that I had going on that I was going to write this particular thing, and then I was going to write that thing, and then I was going to write this other thing. Then I looked at it and I thought, but, I don’t do that, I don’t discuss my plans like that, what the heck? It isn’t necessarily about being “secretive” about a current, or upcoming project, it has more to do with being and staying motivated to complete the work. I think that I had previously used the analogy of talking about working out or going to the gym, versus actually working out. As much as I have talked about it, it probably isn’t a secret to anyone paying attention that I have an actual list of books, stories, of my writing to work on, publish, what have you.
But, there’s this other thing that happens, or can happen, sometimes, I had a moment of, “Well, no one is going to stop me from writing this thing, and this thing, and this other thing too! So, there!” And in that, the idea of something of a memoir came up, again, in poems, sort of, not a start to finish autobiography, because I’d already said I wasn’t writing that, but something talking about the back stories behind some early poems. Well, that’s another trap that writers sometimes fall into, the trap of The Cool Idea. The cool idea isn’t necessarily a good idea, or a smart one. So, I’ll always write poems, but, and I’ll say it again, I’m telling you for the last time, I am not writing any kind of a memoir, probably not ever, and, I’ll tell you why. My thoughts, feelings, and opinions, on the subject of fiction versus non-fiction, and how I arrived at such, because, this could, perhaps, be helpful to others. So, why I write primarily fiction, occasional anecdotal items and articles not being the same thing and besides the point because, yes, I do sometimes write the occasional bit of “non-fiction” when I want to, generally speaking I don’t write non-fiction because…
1.) It makes me miserable. If you’re going to write something like that, a memoir, an autobiography, I think you have to ask yourself why you’re doing it. When I was younger, I had these grandiose thoughts about, well, about a lot of things, but about that this, writing non-fiction, would help people or, oh this, or saving the world, things like that. I wanted to buy the world a Coke and teach it to sing, in perfect harmony. Well, really, I’ve always liked Pepsi better. What’s so special or different about your story, or mine? I’m saying that not to deride the value of any person’s personal story, but saying that in asking myself the question, for me, would the misery of the writing of it be worth the imperative value of the story as a “unique”story? For me, overall, that answer is no. The truth is that there are many wonderful memoirs out there, if you’re looking for something to read along those lines. I read Shawn Colvin’s memoir, “Diamond in the Rough”, last year, and it was really good, helpful even. Now, if it was about money, how much money would make the misery involved in writing a memoir worth it to me? Not to quote Star Wars, but, “More well than you can imagine.” And trust me, on this, my imagination, when it comes to amounts of money that would make such an undertaking worth it to me, is thoroughly schooled in the math of the matter.
2.) It would, or might, hurt people whom I don’t want to hurt. Anyone considering writing a memoir who isn’t considering this point, might be lacking the emotional depth needed for such a work. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I went through a very dark time. During that time, I made some not great decisions with regard to my writing, possibly in regard to some other things too. I hurt some feelings that I did not intend or want to hurt, even if people had hurt me, even if they had it coming in some way, a lot of it was still out of character for me. If you’re writing a memoir and you’ve got any kind of story to tell at all, chances are you’re going to hurt other people. There are people who I don’t owe the consideration of the time of day to, and plenty whom, I’m sure, feel likewise about me, well, then be done with them, I say. Don’t give them one more minute of your life. Evil people aren’t a new invention. Most of us aren’t all good or all bad. I haven’t ever been a vengeful person, that’s not a motivation for me, I happen to be of the firm belief that life evens things out, God knows what He’s doing. There are those who think that you have to forgive people to move on, or that if you forgive them, well, then you won’t be mad anymore, or that that somehow makes them good people again, or that it makes you one. I’ve learned that you don’t have to forgive people to move on, they don’t have to forgive you, you can just be done. Indifference is a beautiful thing. Forgiveness is a deeper matter, I’ve found that if that’s going to happen, it will in its own time. But, there are others who, even if they really hurt me, I know they were able to hurt me, because I cared, and that means there was some bit of myself there that I want to respect, and some bit of them too, or of that moment. There are people who I hurt, intentionally or not, and that’s life, but what I know from having been hurt, well, a lot of those apologies don’t quite get it done. People do that to one another along the way which isn’t to make light of it, but to say that, okay, at some point, it’s been enough. So, there are the people whose feelings don’t deserve consideration in such a matter, and in most every life, at some point, there are likely situations where everyone has been through more than enough. There are also “innocent bystanders” in any such situation, meaning that perhaps they weren’t main characters but they were wherever and they didn’t do anything to me, they’ve gone with their lives, some of them are completely different people, changed or grown up or whatever, and they’ve every right to that. I thought of all that a long time ago. I wrote my autobiography once, for myself, and then I burned every page of it, more than a decade ago, because I decided then that that isn’t who I want to be as a writer, or a person. Getting older comes with the applicable comprehension of the wisdom behind such statements as, let sleeping dogs lie.
3.) In every true story, is a multitude of fiction. That right there, is a true statement in more ways than one. Telling your true story is, pardon the expression, kind of blowing your wad, in a lot ways. If you are a writer, you’re drawing from your own life, your own experiences, in some way, at some point, you can get a lot more mileage out of that if you’re writing fiction. Sure, some people who know you, or knew you, might be able to read something and say, “Hey, that’s the diner up on old highway 96 she’s writing about, she just moved it to another street, it wasn’t on that street. What’s she doing? There wasn’t no damn whale mural painted on that wall.” That’s what makes it fiction. Once you do that, you are writing fiction. You can take that same diner and drop into a million different stories and change the painting on the wall every time, change the street it’s on, etc. Your larger audience, and hopefully if you’re a writer, at some point you’re thinking about your larger audience, doesn’t know that “real” diner, and they just know the one you made up. People out there don’t know that you wrote cousin Lolly into the south side madame, or the fairy godmother, or the Duchess of Delusion in the Forest of Barking Ferns, and they don’t need to. Fiction, is a lot more fun to write, way more fun to write, in every way.
4.) What do you want to talk about? Imagine that the book you’ve written is the biggest hit in the world. You’re on a book tour. People love your book, and day after, they’re coming up to you and want to talk about what you wrote. What do you want to talk about? And is the paycheck you got for writing that memoir enough to make it worth it to be talking about it for however long? Telling an anecdote now and then, saying, “Oh yeah, that’s from my own life, kind of based on this trip we took once.” isn’t the same thing as writing your true story, not in the least, not at all. If I say that it was my mother that introduced me to the likes of Perry Mason, Kolchak, Alfred Hitchcock, who gave me a book to read about a vampire, who let me watch the film “Ghost Story” with her, and said I might like the movie and the book, “Wolfen”, ( I still need/want to read that book), sharing those anecdotes, that she encouraged my poetry and fiction, or honoring those influences, isn’t the same as writing a memoir or autobiography. Saying you got an idea for a story from a song, or rambling about books, music, and movies, also, not the same thing. So, what do you want to talk about? Stuff that makes you miserable, or stuff that makes you laugh and smile and that makes writing a fun thing for you to be doing?
5.) Vampires and Werewolves OR Whatever You Want to Invent to Write About. I recall when I thought that all stories were fiction, unless they were books about important historical figures, like the biography of Abraham Lincoln. I even remember when I thought that biographies were boring. I didn’t want to write about vampires. I threw a lot of fits about that, for quite a while, and I now think of it as part and parcel of my own snarling transformation to writing fiction, and writing horror. I am, or was, primarily a noir writer, a crime story writer, and a poetess. I started writing my vampire novel, THE SLICK FURIES, and I couldn’t stop writing it. The story was rolling and I knew where it was going and I knew the ending and I was excited to be writing it. Writing fiction is limitless. I’ve learned more truth from writing fiction than from any true story I’ve ever written or tried to write. I’ve published four books, of those four, the vampire novel is my favorite. During the course of the last five years, I wrote six books that were completely new, and amassed enough material for a couple of others. I’ve written a variety of fiction, and of varying lengths, everything from flash fiction to full length novels. It’s afforded me the opportunity to figure out what I enjoy writing, what I want to do. There are stories that I’ve written that, while I think they’re very good stories, I didn’t enjoy writing them, and to even think about some of them, makes me kind of sick to my stomach. There are stories that I’ve written that I even think are great stories, but that I wish I hadn’t written because looking at them now, I really understand where that influence was coming from. I don’t have any interest in writing things that make me feel that way. Like figuring out that for me, “On the Road”, was something that I read at the end of a phase that I was going through, and though it was my favorite book for about ten years, more than ten years ago, well, I’ve read some other things since then. Jack Kerouac died an unhappy man, his glory days and ability to revel in them, or lie to himself and romanticize about what he was observing or had observed, behind him, he drank himself to death. Stephen King and Anne Rice both got sober. I don’t know if that’s really any kind of comparison or not, but there you go. I think, as a writer, it’s important to give yourself the time to figure that kind of thing out, to sort out your own influences, and sometimes, time, is the only thing that can do that for you. I love writing long form fiction, and I can do it, not everyone can. I love the challenge of it. It makes me happy. ( Though, personally, I’m probably done writing about vampires for the foreseeable future, for a while…I don’t know.)
6.) I’ve Read A Lot of Memoirs and I Can Tell You This… There is still a lot of fiction going on in the telling of any “true” story. To quote Bob Seger, there’s a lot of “What to leave in, what to leave out.” Celebrity bios, especially of the old timey movie stars, those tend to be fairy tales, sometimes bordering on being nothing more than propaganda or publicity pieces. You’re still ever only getting what the author and/or editor and/or publisher wants you to get and there are those who have completely fabricated memoirs from start to finish. If I want to write/tell the occasional “true” anecdote, I will, but a complete memoir, no, generally I prefer to write fiction.
7.) There’s a difference between occasionally telling anecdotal stories about one thing or another, and writing a “tell all”. I have very definite opinions about such things, and it is my life, one hundred percent.
I did some complaining on my way to these realizations and decisions and understandings and what not, took some wrong turns, have had to make corrections. Really, it was the first time in my life that I know I was, for a while, a “complainer.” So I guess I needed to, in that it provided some kind of relief, but the reason I was never a complainer was because, it really doesn’t do any good, never really has made me feel any better, like just talking about working out. Which is also why I didn’t share the four thousand word rant that I wrote last night, it was helpful to me, but otherwise wasn’t constructive. Now, here you have why I’ve become a fiction writer, I enjoy it.
Every writer, every person, has to find their own way, has to find what works for them as an individual. Like I always say, find what works for you, and treat it like the gospel.
there’s a great line in the film “Strange Days”, “Memories are supposed to fade, Lenny. They’re designed that way for a reason.”