Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fiction can be better than non-fiction.

I was sitting in the editorial office at ----- Press, listening to the Editor tell me that it's so much more rewarding to acquire a non-fiction book, because it's so wonderful to be informed and enlightened by someone who's very knowledgeable on a particular subject.

What Lewis Carrol world am I living in if fiction has suddenly become not as interesting as non-fiction. When I was growing up, the only types of non-fiction available to the masses were largely scorned-lady memoirs that led to movies of the week like Not Without My Child and The Burning Bed, which ultimately led to The Lifetime Network. These were not what I considered to be "fun," though I must admit that I do occasionally plan nights around what Tuesday night flick about bulemic daughters they're airing.

My point is not to bash non-fiction. In fact, I have several friends who specialize in the creative essay, and I've even dabbled in it myself for a moment or two, but how is it that a medium wherein you can make up anything in the world or any other world to write about has become less interesting than our everyday lives? Wait, our world is pretty fucked up...

Let's go back to what my editor was saying. She likes it when someone is "knowledgeable." Come to think of it, so do I. Well, what does this mean for the writers of today who are looking for a publishing contract? What I think it means is, Go Do Some Research. I can't even count how many times people have said that we should write what we know, and I also can't count how many times I've violently disagreed (yes, I have a literary temper). I don't think fiction writers should take this so literally. What leads me to say this is this author, and this one. Why are so many people writing boring middle-class stories supposedly jazzed up by some "magical realism"? People don't care about this shit anymore. We may have cared when The Ice Storm came out, but I'm a little tired of it when I look around me and see how fucked up the world can be, and we're writing about suburban families with magic holes in their stomachs. I would love for these magic holes to mean something larger in the world. I'd like them to be representative of the healthcare crisis or the violent deaths of Chicago youth, and I know I can't expect everyone to write about things that matter, but I'd like for a lot of us to try. And maybe this is where "knowledge" comes in. Knowledge is the full experience. Oh, MFA'ers, have you been living in the real world, or are you too busy making one up that could never compare?


  1. I thought about just sending you an email. Or tackling you on g-chat to discuss some of this with you. But, I figure, you really want this blog to do some work or something-- or you're hoping people will comment. I don't usually comment on blogs. I will here b/c I heart you.

    So, I'm behind you on this knowledge thing. I research like crazy for most of the work that I produce-- I like to learn and in learning hopefully teach or process or use or something when spiralling it out into the universe.

    But I do question the assertion taht for something to "mean something larger in the world" that it has to be political (which seems to be the implication by your "healthcare crisis" and "violent deaths of Chicago youth"). That's not to imply that these things don't matter, or that people should not write about them. Some people should. Some people shouldn't. There are other types of things that matter, no? Especially if knowledge is the "full experience"-- and I'd like to hear more about this "too busy making one up that could never compare"...??? Are you making a direct link to our writing Aimee Bender stories? And do her stories not occasionally deal with real human issues, a la loneliness or personal discomforts or something? (I haven't read her books in a while, but I recall them distinctly dealing with human experience from a different perspective???)-- or perhaps I'm confusing intent here?

  2. ...also... thank you for linking to alice blue. :)

  3. I thank you for bringing up that point about Aimee Bender. I have a continuous love/hate relationship with her work as well as several other lovely cronies of hers. I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I have a great appreciation for Bender and Doerr and other writers who have tried to reinvent fiction, but maybe what I dislike are the imitations that seem dull and unoriginal, and often what I'm angry at is that the Benders and Doerrs of the world seem in a rut to me. There's such a thing as possessing a style and there's another thing called "one note." Sometimes I wonder if it isn't the publishing industry's expectations that drive a writer to write in "one note." Hmm...more on this later, I think.