I don’t mean just here, but also in the greater world as a freelance scribe. I was also a working journalist for many, many eons. Added to which I have three unpublished manuscripts kicking around in the bowels of my laptop and wanting me to gird my loins sufficiently to send them off again. And I will. Actually one of them will, I hope, go out once again to face the wide-world of potential rejection next week.
Most of my writing is either in factual or at least satirical vein. Sometimes it’s so truthful it damn well hurts and it serves you right for reading it, I say.
Generally I’m a successful writer. Not only do I think so, but so obviously have the folks that have paid me for my efforts over the years. But, there is one area in which I am admittedly hopeless – the writing of fiction.
A while ago I interviewed a woman who is a successful novelist. I mean, she has actually turned out books between covers and good folk buy them. How jolly nice that must be. Anyway, during our conversation she told me that she is wanting to turn her talents to non-fiction because she doesn’t feel as adept at that genre as she might be. She then asked me if I ever wrote fiction.
In a word – no. In two more words – I don’t.
Odd, in a way. I mean, I studied English in university and have a degree in it. I have read virtually all notable works of fiction – OK, the ones that were assigned. Nobody reads Moby Dick willingly, in my view. But, in the day, my recreational reading also lived in the realm of fiction. And I had my favorite novelists ranging from Salinger to Kerouac to Capote to Orwell.
And then, in middle age I virtually ceased reading novels. For some reason (and it’s nut unknown, amongst males specifically) I became obsessed with the fact the stories were “inventions”. They “weren’t true.” A contemporary novelist I really like is Wally Lamb, and I’ve read most of his offerings and they are highly worthy – yet, in the back of my mind is the niggling thought that these aren’t ‘real’ people. This ‘never really happened.’ And then I’ll go back to, say, Bill Bryson, who writes about real people and places, or Ann Rule who writes about real hideous psychopaths – so much scarier than fictional ones.
So, why don’t I write fiction? Well, to be honest, I’ve tried. I even have about five chapters kicking around. But, I think those five chapters are five badly written chapters. In the first place my central character invariably – no matter how hard I try to counter the impulse – turns out to be some sort of variation of yours truly, with all my neuroses, quirks, passions, lusts, and elements of personal history. How can I avoid that? How can I think like somebody else? While not intentionally writing a roman a clef, ultimately bits of my own history intrude. That would be fine if I’d led a rivetingly exciting life, but really (to me at least) it’s all been rather ordinary.
And then I’ll introduce female characters. Huge challenge. I love women, but I can’t really empathize with how they think. In real life, just when I think I have it right, I find out that I’m terribly wrong. So, I am going to create a ‘real’ woman? Well, when I do so she turns out the way ‘I’ want her to be, not how her character might really be. Mainly buxom and sexually insatiable. It’s a challenge for any novelist to truly capture the essence of the opposite sex, and I admire the hell out of those who have been able to, like Brian Moore or the aforementioned Lamb.
And at the end of it, I haven’t read enough decent fiction in recent years to be really familiar with what is happening in the realm. I read my interviewee’s latest novel and really liked it but was only left with the thought:
How do you do that?