The other day, Kate Colby shared another great post – this one on how being married has assisted and improved her writing:
Before marrying Daniel, I was a “writer” with big dreams and little action. Now, I am a writer (no quotation marks necessary) with big dreams, big actions, and big plans. Can I give him 100% credit for my success? No. I think I deserve I good chunk of it. However, I can say, having him in my life has been a huge help and momentum builder.
Naturally, everyone has different experiences in that regard. I have certainly been much encouraged in my novel-writing by my wife. She reads what I write closely, critiques it, and keeps me generally grounded.
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Yet my chosen subject matter has also proven at times problematic precisely because I’m married. An example from a June post:
….the iPad packed away, the two of us reclining in the shade (good grief, the sun here is hot!) on loungers [next to] …. the pool, my wife asked me, “Did you get a lot [of writing] done today?”
Lowering a paperback I was reading, I replied, “I did. I woke up this morning thinking, ‘God, how could I have forgotten to include that!?’ I definitely wouldn’t have been happy if I didn’t.”
From behind her sunglasses, deadpan “Englishly” my [English] wife smiled and needled me, “Okay, so, what was her name?”
She’s convinced I’m writing a version of a mid-late 20s autobiography (long before I ever knew her) re-packaged as fiction, names changed, and carefully altered here and there in time and place. I admit there is a degree of truth in her charge. I’ve never pretended to assert the tales and characters are conjured up out of thin air.
Yes, there is a great deal of me in “James.” Yes, there is lots of reality in the women and their families. (Unsurprisingly an especial point of amusing interest to Mrs. Nello now.) And “James’s” family – including “Uncle Bill” – and his friends, and the fictionalized Long Island university he attends, all came from somewhere.
As my wife has read the novels, she has relished playing “detective” – looking to “unmask” characters and life references she thinks she recognizes. However, I’ve also cautioned Mrs. Nello repeatedly that doing that is not nearly as straightforward as she may think. The books are not a journal or a diary.
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That said, we know novelists do rummage through their own lives and experiences to some extent. We know Scott Fitzgerald did. Certainly Hemingway. Jane Austen wrote about what she knew. Alan Paton admitted one of his main characters was outright based on himself decades earlier – and he didn’t like the character! My real-life novelist uncle has sourced much from his own life.
A novel utterly detached from the real world is simply fantasy. But utilizing memories for source material doesn’t necessarily mean it happened precisely as written either of course. Well, okay, not much of the time anyway. ;-)
All kidding aside, reality gives fiction, well, reality. For example, in my own personal code, I have fictionally woven into the books a couple of sharp “slaps” at people I despise. Yes, that’s a bit nasty of me, I know; but only I know who they are.
More importantly, like Paton, I’ll admit as well that there are times I don’t like my “James” all that much. I suspect I’ll feel the same about him as I write the third book too. But I’ll leave it to others to attempt to probe what it might mean regarding the psyche when an author writes critically about a fictional “oneself”:
Now Mark blasted him. “You what? You told her you wanted to kiss her? What are you, twelve? ‘Gee, now it’s my turn! Yeh, I get to kiss Valérie!’ This isn’t goddamn ‘Spin the Bottle.’”
“I had too much to drink,” James stressed. “A brandy too much at dinner. My mouth got out ahead of my brain.”
“Oh, that’s so f-ing original,” Mark replied scathingly.
Composing these tales has led me much better to appreciate that what we see in most novels is probably indeed just the tip of the iceberg. Much more has likely gone on beneath those words we devour than we as readers ever fully realize. When it comes to my books, that is certainly the case.
It’s all so layered and complicated. Maybe I should’ve written about elves. Or space princesses. ;-)
Hope you’re having a good Sunday, wherever you are in the world. :-)