Sunday, June 2, 2013
Truth in Fiction
Come the end of June, I can finally focus again on writing. Happy to have found representation for my DISTILALTION, this summer I will work on one of two new novels I began over the past two years and maybe come close to completing a draft. I have chosen to work on the one tentatively titled COLD SPRING FIRE, and for the past few months I have been considering what I have so far and where I want to go with it. Much of what I have been thinking about is the truths I will spin into the fiction of that story, and how that fiction will make sense out of a variety of "truths" that haunt me.
I write fiction to exorcise demons and dreams. Writing fiction is a way for me to process places and experiences from the near or recent past and to turn them in to something completely different, something that turns my impressions into a new truth. There is no one truth. All different perspectives make up a varied truth. An individual truth can never be true to anyone but the person who creates it. And a person's truth about a single experience can change over time.
In DISTILLATION, I delved into my time spent in a little town in western, Massachusetts. The events in the novel have nothing to do with my life there, but the shapes of the characters and the especially the main character's feelings, issues, and personality were spun from real life. No one in the novel portrays a real person though, and so when people ask me if they are in my novel, I can say of course, or I can say no. Both are true. Interestingly, people like to hear they are in the novel, but even more interestingly, they often miss the qualities sprinkled here and there that I actually took from what is my truth about them, because it is not the truth they see for themselves.
COLD SPRING FIRE is based on my formative years. My teenage years. I spend a lot of time with teenagers, and one of the reasons I went in to teaching was because I liked being a teenager. It was great fun. But it was also a time, as it is for all adolescents, of great insecurity, great risks, great fear, and many mistakes. The world comes at you like an onslaught. It is hard to understand why things happen as they do, or to make rational decisions about your options when you are young. Scott Fitzgerald called youth a form of chemical madness. I have to agree with this. Teenagers push the limits just to find out where the edge of the world is. Teenagers have a love affair with darkness. They want to rebel and to seek an identity all their own, but are of course shaped more than they know by the identities of their parents, even as they defy everything their parents want. And the ways in which teens often try to control their destinies and deal with their emotions appear to those on the outside as madness or destruction. Both perspectives of course are true.
The new novel will again be about living in a small town, just as DISTILLATION was. I love the atmosphere and mystery of small towns, especially rural ones where there seems to be nothing but trees. In towns like this the school is often the center of life. There are families that come and go, and those that have been there forever. There are appearances to keep and secrets behind every neatly mown lawn.
What I look forward to most is the weaving. When I write I become entranced by a river of shining threads. They originate from my memories, my fantasies, my day to day experiences. The sound of the wind in the trees. A remembered moment passing between two people without words, spoken just with the eyes. Laughter from another room. The dry heat and cedar smell of a forest on an August afternoon. Moonlight on water, soaked with the stink of pond. A black and white photograph hiding a secret. The smell of fire in the spring.
It is like a visual, auditory, and olfactory symphony in my head and it consumes me once I really get going. It is interesting too that sound and smell play such a large part in both my memory and my writing. I am very affected by these senses, more so than most it seems at times. These are how my truths take shape. This is how I turn my truth into fiction. Or perhaps, how I turn my fiction into truth.
How do you define truth?