Jun 2, 2011

The Tragic Downside of Writing What You Know

It's been a difficult couple of months lately for anyone who watches the news and is empathetic to the struggles that befall our earthly cohabitators. Japan's continuing difficulties were still powerfully fresh in my mind when one of the most powerful tornados on record carved a path through Joplin, Missouri. My day job required me to be involved in that one from a professional standpoint, as my company has employees there, and without going too deeply into it, I will just say that it remains a powerful event, even many days later.

I've been on a variety of conference calls for the past two weeks now, working with directly and indirectly impacted people, and observed as my emotional state careened dramatically between despair and horror and the occasional moments of elation. There were moments of optimism, truly. But these seemed - to my mind - to be the infrequencies rather than the norm.

I even took a full day off last week from work just to untether my mind from the reality of that devastation. "Untether"? Unhitch? Unhinge? *shrug* I don't know that any of those words works better than the others. To be frank, I just needed to disconnect from it.

So I spent a day as something else - not a crisis manager, but as an author. Went with a good friend to a coffee bar (frequented by - gasp - other authors!) and enjoyed a good cup of mocha, a tasty raspberry doughnut and a fantastic conversation. From there, went to a local comic book shop and hung with three other good friends of mine, and, following a brief nap (please keep all your "Old Man" jokes to yourselves, I've heard them all, thanks) went to a meeting with a few other authors to discuss ongoing and future projects.

Sadly, I didn't actually get any writing done, but I did the next best thing in that I gave all the cacophony a moment to settle.

Later in the week I was able to sit back down with my next novel and eke out a few trembling paragraphs, which is better than I'd been able to do all week - so I took it as an achievement.  But through all the craziness of the past few weeks, a conversation with another author jumped out at me, regarding some of the challenges at writing fiction versus non - namely, the concept of writing what you know.

It's a common enough statement, uttered as the Primal Commandment of Literature for all struggling authors, to keep your emotional associations and personal experiences as grist for the mill, as the base matter for your Eternal Writing Engine. That idea used to make me smile - my first books have been about sci fi and fantasy, all tales strewn from a world wholly unlike my own life-experiences, with concepts such as dimensional travel, death and the soul, magic and that sort of nonsense. Heh. Nonsense. Oh, sure I can talk casual, but I do love the material. And I make no excuses for it - - - fiction though it may be, I know exactly where every twisted non-reality comes from in my own life.

Just like any author will draw some corrolary item out of the congealed memories or experiences of their past or present, a writhing, living creature from the subconscious colonies of their own spirit, I just paste together a mosaic of this or that when building out the worlds, the characters, the elements that combine to form the narrative. How much of it is conscious or not... well, I suppose that's a question only my therapist would be equipped to answer. (Or, well, they would if I had one. For now, a blog is cheaper. *snrk*)

So, back to Japan and Joplin.

I'm on chapter 3 of the conclusion to my 6-book Chronicles of Aesirium series. It's all been quickly rising in intensity the past few books, as all the opposing forces are arrayed across the fictional chessboard. And this is the big one, the throwdown between good and evil. I won't lie - and I'm not spoiling, I hope - but it's not gonna be a clean war, here. There will be casualities. There will be destruction. Book five was emotionally intense enough for me to write, but book 6.... yikes.

I've sat on the threshold of this story for a few months, now, ever since book 5 wrapped back in the first part of 2011. It's not just that it's a big epic confrontation, filled to the brim with infinite moving parts - well, okay, it kind of is, but that's not the reason I've been pausing.

And I don't think I even fully appreciated why I was hesitant to start until Japan started to really affect me. With the added impact of my co-workers in Missouri, the point was truly driven home. Basically, I'm not just writing a story of a teenager who becomes an angel of death, or the story of her friends - the streetwise prophet or the budding mad scientist. It's a story about history - about how we allow ourselves to be misled when we don't understand the very world we've been born into, and about how the future is driven by the comprehension of that past. But it's also about how we communicate NOW, and how we as a large community experience the present. And that realization is when the light went on.

Why were Japan and Joplin so potent in my emotional core? Because I need to write them into this. Their story is noteworthy - their experience is not just applicable, but it's something that is potent. It resonates - not just with me, either, obviously. I'm just some guy writing books. But hopefully I can manage to shape this tale as a way to expand the resonance of these real-world events, even if it's just in my own small way.

I recall hearing a story about Anne Rice's initial inspiration to write the "Interview with the Vampire" book - about how it came from a question of how to deal with the loss of her daughter - - "can a child live forever?" Certainly, such a powerful experience can lead an author in powerful directions. Additionally, I see the stamp of Hiroshima in many of the anime shows I've watched - Robotech, Akira, Grave of the Fireflies, for just some of the more blatant examples. They deal with the wound to their culture through...well, their culture. And so the cycle continues, I suppose.

It's a literary catharsis, in a manner of speaking. And it's not simply relegated to writing - musicians, painters, sculptors, actors, whatever - - we create from our own experiences and observations, from our own emotional response to the world we live in. So what if the price is a little bit of heightened emotion? So what if we're, as a simple result, just a little more emotional about things? Is the price worth it?

Actually, that's kind of a silly question, isn't it? If I didn't think it was worth it, why would I still be doing it?

Some days, I don't really expect tremendous and earth-shattering nuggets of wisdom here - - sometimes, it's just nice to check in and remind myself why I do this. And with that, back to work.

No comments: