Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Selling Out?

All right, so one question I've wondered about recently -- and encountered other short story writers with the same question -- is, at what point is autobiographical short fiction okay? You know, "all the names have been changed to protect the innocent," that sort of thing.

Of my body of work, about half are pretty closely based on real-life experiences or people. At some point, the characters tend to take on lives of their own... shedding harsher lights on people than perhaps they deserve sometimes.

In my youth, I wrote lots of short fiction where it was quite possible someone -- likely an ex, let's face it -- would say, "Oh shit, THAT'S ME." This is not including boat loads of "bad poetry" I mentioned earlier -- one of my loves of my life has several sick and twisted (in a good way), unpublished/unsubmitted poems devoted to him, perhaps a reasonable chapter in my secret book of "bad poetry." (In a different case of a short story, even though the portrayal wasn't exactly flattering though it had some strange degree of panache, I suppose, another ex was flattered! I guess he did realize that regardless, it's a good thing to be immortalized in print.) Recently, I got one older story published that was so close to truth that I ended up cringing. You know, it was a goal I had had for so long, and the paradox was, I ended up feeling downright weird that it received venue in the end. It was probably one of the most ironic events of my life, really.

Recently, though -- and I feel more comfortable with this -- short stories I have written may contain some shred of truth, about certain people or events, but build into entirely fictional realms. What could have been. How a certain character archetype might have reacted, given a situation. What I wished had happened. An imagined outcome that I dreaded.

Anyway, I have definitely wondered what other writers feel about this. Fact vs. fiction, and the varying shades in between. I truly believe writers write what they know. And I know I have surrounded myself with people over the course of my life, who I felt were so interesting that they deserve characterization. But then, I've wondered if they might feel sold out.

So, this is just a post about a question that I have no answer to. And if anybody has any thoughts, please comment or email me, I would imagine it's a common question. It's just one writerly thought that has knocked around in my brain in recent history, especially after facing a fictionalized image of my torrid and thoroughly unapologetic teenage years in print, online, and in that moment, having felt my resolve shaken.

Thanks for reading,



Blogger Jen said...

Usually much of my material comes from dreams, although I have written stories with characters that resemble family members and such. I try not to delve into relationship issues, yearnings, old loves, problems with friends, etc., because it can get kind of sketchy. Even on my blog I'm pretty careful about what I write. If I think it may hurt someone or embarass someone, to me that means it belongs in a diary. But everyone is different and writes for different reasons. I write to understand what I do not know/understand and also because I can't stop. Mostly the latter.

2:27 PM  
Blogger LadyLitBlitzin said...

Those are good points, Jen. I never write about friends in any sort of bad light but I don't know, something about relationships almost seems like fair game, though I don't know why I would have that attitude because it's supposed to be intimate, right? Strange that I would feel like love and romance and heartbreak and dirty dealings of the heart have every right to be exposed like that... perhaps someday I should take that up with a therapist, ha!

Love's something that gets us all going, I guess, and one of the real benchmarks of creative urge, I suppose... maybe that's why I feel that way, or maybe I'm just vindictive and/or exhibitionist...

But Jen, about those dreams, it's funny you've mentioned that... because I do have at least one short story that's directly based on a dream I had, which makes me soooo happy. I do need to be better about keeping a notebook beside my bed, because I often have dreams that wake me up, or creative thoughts/lines right before I go to sleep, and I always put off writing them down and then, by morning, I've forgotten. I need to work on that...

6:01 PM  
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