Saturday, January 26, 2008

It Is But It Isn't ...

Recently, I read a story about a reader approaching M.J. Rose and saying, "So you’re a sex therapist, that must be fun ..." To which she replied, "No, I’m an author who writes about a character who is a sex therapist."


But the freaky part about writing, I find, is that truths sometimes shine through.

I never take someone I know and bend and twist them into something else. I just come up with a person. I don’t know where from. I think I start with their emotion, or their inner conflict first. So in that way, I can definitely say that there is no fact about any of my characters.

The other day, Erica Orloff asked about families in our lives and families in our character’s lives on her blog. I answered, and in answering, realized that my current character has only a fuzzy impression of her biological mother.

Which I, until that moment when I typed it, didn’t connect at all with the fact that I have only a fuzzy impression of my biological mother.

Yes, there was a story I was once very honest in, down to actual details, but I was feeling rather "safe" under my pseudonym and the cloud of fiction.

But when it happens accidentally? It’s sort of freaky and scary. I mean, what other deep, dark secrets are spilling out from my subconscious that I’m unaware of?

Not that the fuzzy impression is a deep, dark secret, but can you at least follow my paranoia?

Truth and lies fascinate me, probably because I love spy novels, LOL. There’s so much humanity and emotion and inner and outer conflict in spy novels; it’s like a goldmine for a writer.

One thing I learned from someone I was barraging with research questions, was that the most effective lie is a truth. You have to change this or that, but the less you actually lie, the better.

Writing fiction is like lying, but to do it effectively, we must keep as much as we can true, like details and emotions and humanity.

Which is why I think some readers get confused, why authors send out mixed messages "It’s me! It’s not me! It’s true! It’s a fictitious character! It’s real! That’s not real!"

And most just blanket deny and say that everything they write is fiction. Less misunderstanding that way.

I don’t know where I’m going with all this thinking, except to say that sometimes I’m appalled at how something I write has a parallel to my truths, how it sometimes shows me how my deep subconscious feels about something, even if it’s all warped and twisted and fictionalized.

When I realize that, I get a sick feeling in my stomach and wonder if everyone can see the parallels. And I also wonder what other truths make their way into my stories, truths I don’t realize I’m sharing, even in their disguised form.

Ever get paranoid about that sort of thing? Ever trip up on a detail you’ve included, that you suddenly realize might shed light on your subconscious?

And do all authors spend way too much time trying to figure out their own mind and the minds of those around them?

22 bonus scribbles:

Zoe Winters 1/26/2008 04:03:00 PM  

hehehe See, I fear this. Someone someday reads my fiction and makes a whole bunch of assumptions about who I am based on my characters. I mean I have some pretty strong uniting themes. I'm not sure how comfy I am with that, so sometimes I purposefully throw things in that are totally opposite from me just to someday trip people up. Cause writing is personal, but there's only so far into my psyche I'm letting complete strangers.

Susan Helene Gottfried 1/26/2008 04:37:00 PM  

My grandfather was really good at reading books and picking out what was autobiographical in them. I'm not so good at it; I just don't think that way.

As for my writing, I try to vary my characters and their families. I'm sure stuff seeps out from me, though...

Too bad my grandfather's not here to pick it out for me!

Edie 1/26/2008 08:17:00 PM  

I know my own stuff comes out, but not all of it. It's a peculiar mixture. A big part of my newest book is based on something I did as a child. I started with this fact, added another, and it grew. :)

Hey, I think it would be fun to be a sex therapist too. Maybe in my next book ... Why should M.J. Rose have all the fun?

lainey bancroft 1/27/2008 11:13:00 AM  

LOL Spy. I can't decide if you're trying to make me think deeply or make me deeply confused.

I think truths seep out in everything that everyone writes. Not so much as facts, but as belief systems, morals etc. But it's not something I ever sweat about because hey, this is fiction kids.

Just because I wrote a woman who had an affair with her vet, doesn't mean I have some deep dark desire to do my doggies doctor. Or do I? OMG, he's a weird little dude even the dog won't kiss. :0

Liz Wolfe 1/27/2008 11:16:00 AM  

I think some readers will always assume that you have personal knowledge of some of the things that you write about. But,it probably depends on the subject matter. In my first cozy mystery, the main character discovers that the man she's been married to for 20 years is gay. Some readers who read excerpts of the book asked if I'd been married to a gay man. On the other hand, no one has ever asked me if I used to be a spy or a thief which is in my thrillers...LOL.

StarvingWriteNow 1/27/2008 01:26:00 PM  

Yes. And yes.

Sorry that Borders didn't work out for me on Friday--but I got some good news! My offer on a house was accepted; woo hoo! So there is a light at the end of the tunnel!

Erica Orloff 1/27/2008 01:40:00 PM  

I think Liz is right. It depends on what it is. I think, for whatever reason, those emotionally resonant books, or books with sexuality, emotional components and interpersonal relationships invite more speculation than, say, a paranormal. I don't hide that my books have autobiographical elements, and I've never hidden that my father, for instance, traveled in circles with bookies and prisoners and so on, and I draw on those very colorful characters. But, that said, I won't "own" any specific element in any of my stories unless I choose to. And I don't care what people think. Which is not to say that sometimes I pause. Or sometimes I find it intrusive.

writtenwyrdd 1/27/2008 01:46:00 PM  

Personally, I think anything you write has a parallel in your thoughts, your experience, and the people you know. I use my ex husband for inspiration of character traits in men; I use myself, my family, and people I've heard about in the news. But I don't copy them, I just think of the person who embodies the traits I consider vital to the character and think about how tha tperson expresses the trait. It's a starting point.

I suppose we all get paranoid that we are copying something way too close to the truth for comfort, but unless you've managed to have a true Mary Sue escape unnoticed from the subconscious, I personally don't worry about it. Can always fix the dross in revision.

And, personally, I would not want to be a sex therapist. Imagine all the ick you get to hear. You would hear about the problems, the bad things... Shudders...

spyscribbler 1/27/2008 02:16:00 PM  

ROFL, Zoe. I love it -- diversionary tactics! That is priceless.

Susan, I think I would have liked your grandfather! I think stuff has to seep out from us, because, um, they came from our mind, LOL!

Edie, yeah, it changes. I was wondering, really, how much stays the same at all. I was thinking of seeing these parallels, and realized, but I changed this and that and this and that ... maybe at the end of all that's changed, nothing of the original reality is left. Or maybe it's there, I don't know.

I once wrote a story about a sexual surrogate. I loved that one so much I want to throw it away and write it all over again, with the skills I have now.

spyscribbler 1/27/2008 02:19:00 PM  

Hah, Lainey! My cat's vet is pretty damn good-looking. :-) And my cats are crazy about him, LOL.

Just thinking about what you guys have commented, and maybe it's a bit like homeopathic medicine.

Homeopathic medicine takes a substance, sometimes toxic, and dilutes it SO much (thousands of times), that all that's left is the molecular shape of the substance, but none of the actual substance.

Maybe that's what happens to our experiences: maybe the emotion or the shape is there, but everything else is completely different.

spyscribbler 1/27/2008 02:21:00 PM  

LOL, Liz. I wonder if the question comes more from the reader wondering if they've found someone who understands them, maybe a kindred spirit, you know?

I'd be a spy in a second if I thought I could be any good at it. However, I'd be a terrible spy, LOL.

spyscribbler 1/27/2008 02:22:00 PM  

WriteNow, I missed you! But a new house, that's FANTASTIC! I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. Is it the one you were talking about, the one you hadn't seen the inside of but just got that "it" feeling?

spyscribbler 1/27/2008 02:32:00 PM  

LOL, Erica, you have lived a fascinating life, that's for sure. You bring up a good point about paranormal. I do like to write fantasy (or paranormal), because it's almost a deeper fiction in which you can put more truth, because it's fiction. No ... I like it because you can put truth without any excuses necessary to appease our social context.

Oh, nevermind, LOL.

I can understand about the owning bit. It just makes me feel awkward sometimes. Whether it's my own experience or compassion, I desperately want it to feel real to the reader. But it's a double-edged sword.

You know, I wish there was a group blog everyone could go anonymous on, and discuss such things as to how to respond to your readers, how to interact with them and stuff. It's such a weird relationship and I always feel lost, because they have a relationship with the author through their stories, but you have no relationship with them, usually. It's just ... weird.

spyscribbler 1/27/2008 02:35:00 PM  

Writtenwyrrd, it would be a pit of human hurts, I think. I'd just want to hug them, LOL; I'd such as a sex therapist. There is so much more to our lives than sex, and yet, the hurts and feelings there are so big and intimate and vulnerable.

Sometimes I use other characters or other people for inspiration. But you're right, by the time it gets put through our minds and our story, he/she's a completely different person.

Erica Orloff 1/27/2008 04:31:00 PM  

You should blog about that. It IS a weird type of relationship. I get ALL sorts of emails--99% of them lovely, but definitely personal and people tell me things. I feel like Dear Abby sometimes.

spyscribbler 1/27/2008 06:23:00 PM  

LOL, Erica. I would, but all I have are questions. I want answers! And I never hear people talk about it, (well, except to complain sometimes). But not much about ... I don't know, the HOW. I guess that's just different for everyone, I don't know.

But there's user's guide and info out there for every other aspect of the business and the craft. Just not that.

Avery DeBow 1/27/2008 10:26:00 PM  

Everything we write (and, to a greater extent, experience) is filtered through our own consciousness. We can speculate how others may be, or how they think, or might react to something, but we're speculating based on our own experiences, our own thought processes. There's no way to totally exit yourself to view a situation with complete objectivity. Since you can't turn yourself off, there's no way a part of you won't make it into every single character and every single story you write. It's unavoidable. And, since it's a waste to have angst over the unavoidable, don't even worry about it.

Travis Erwin 1/27/2008 11:14:00 PM  

Ever trip up on a detail you’ve included, that you suddenly realize might shed light on your subconscious?

All the time

And do all authors spend way too much time trying to figure out their own mind and the minds of those around them?

I think that is why we become writers int eh first place.

SQT 1/28/2008 02:52:00 PM  

I see a lot of what I am working through personally pop up in whatever I'm writing. I think it's our subconscious at work-- though I don't think that everything that pops up has to have huge significance, it's just the mind's way of dealing with things. Maybe dreams figure into this subconscious mix too....

But I don't worry about it. I have to be able to connect with a character to write about them. I don't have to be an evil person to understand an evil impulse-- I just have to make sure that I recognize that bad is bad when I see it [or feel it]. Does that make any sense?

spyscribbler 1/28/2008 04:00:00 PM  

Very true, Avery. It's fascinating how we humans are almost 99% identical, scientifically, and yet we're all so very different.

But, you know, angst is so much fun!

Travis, I think you're on to something. It must be a factor.

LOL, Bernita and Erica. Let me just say: What you all said!

SQT, that's what they say the purpose of dreams is, to deal with things. Maybe we writers just do it during the day.

And it does make sense, about connecting. Writing is sometimes a practice in compassion, I think.