Monday, December 10, 2012

Waiting for Life in Tucson, Arizona. Part 4

As writers, how do we write about it and make it interesting to readers?

The question comes to me so often that I'm ashamed that I don't have a snappy answer to it. The question: Did it really happen? The question comes after someone I know has read something I've written. Did it really happen? No. I repeat, no. The next question is just as silly. The next question is really a rewording of the first question. Have ever noticed that some folks will ask the same question over and over and still hope for the answer they want? The question is: Is [insert any character from the story] really you? No. Again, no.

I write fiction.

But the elements of fiction must come from somewhere. If I chose to write about the time I did this that or the other and had a good time of it and wrote it as it happened, as in real time, reality TV or whatever, it would not translate well to the page. If I choose to write about a place, or the people within it, to simply report on it will prove boring too. As writers, and this is any kind of writer, we must be selective and make choices when we narrate.

Tucson has been on my mind lately. Tucson was a miserable existence for me. In short, I went to Tucson because I was bullied into it. I got there in May and in December the person who bullied me into the Tucson move wanted a divorce. You can image how I felt about the place. On top of all of that, the place was really fucking hot. So why write about? Well, as I mentioned in the Preamble on November 12, I purchased Cosmo Doogood's Urban Almanac and that along with Julianna Spallholz's The State of Kansas brought about a certain nostalgia. The case of the former, the book represents all of the nothing I had when I left Tucson in December 2005 and everything, and I do mean everything I have now. And as for the former, Julianna is a good friend, and I admire her writing.

But what about Tucson? How does this play into the writing?

Well, there's the obvious example of “Ocean into Cotton Candy” which ran at Curbside Splendor. I set the whole thing in the Hotel Congress in the summer. Did it really happen? Read the story, you tell me. Is Wilhelm really you? No, but I like warm gin like he does. I simply used a familiar, but not too familiar place and situation as the backdrop of the story. I did it again in “A Monument to Failed Endeavors” which appears in Cocktails and Consequences at Sophia Ballou. I took familiar surroundings and used them to craft a scene in a story. In “The Escape from Recess,” (Red Lightbulbs) I have made both characters, Claude and Ricky, autobiographical. I did know an old Frenchman in Tucson who I model the story on. And if you must know, in my novel Dysphoric Notions, there is absolutely nothing to do with Tucson. But, some of the scenes are tableaux I've had in life. It's the nature of writing. A writer sees, experiences, lives and ultimately writes.

The point of this series?

The wellspring of good fiction comes from a life filled with good writing practices and life experience. I know this, if from no other place that at Umbrella Factory Magazine. When I read a short story and it's set in a far exotic place like Tucson, Arizona and it weaves in themes of heat and death and strippers and tiki drinks, I may believe aspects of the story are based on real life events. And when I read a short story set in a college classroom, especially creative writing 101, I also know they are based on real life events. I bet you know which I think is more interesting.

It comes down to The State of Kansas. It comes down to Julianna Spallholz. It comes down to her book, and that's that. The whole point of the series is how much I enjoyed reading The State of Kansas.

Along the way, I have discovered how much of my Tucson experience has molded me as a writer. Yes, I have used it as a place, a time and a cast of characters for several things I've written. I've also told you that I knew Julianna when I lived there. I've also told you that Julianna is the major reason why I made it to grad school. But what I haven't told you is the conflict. In Tucson I got the first hand lesson in conflict. Man vs. nature. (Me, the heat, the cockroaches) Man vs. man. (In this sense me & the ex-wife) Man vs. the supernatural. (Doris) Man vs. society. (Me and everything) Man vs. himself. (Me and the gin) It's a strange thing indeed, all this conflict. I can reference the memory and instantly apply it to any situation. I've written novels with these sorts of conflicts and I know these conflicts first hand. This is what it means to be a writer. A writer must write, yes. But a writer must live. With life comes experience, perspective and a deeper understanding of the human being as character. 

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