Thursday, February 24, 2005

Sick, sick, sick...

Well, I'm on antibiotics and really, truthfully, I feel very crappy. Make that very, very. I'm plopped in front of the computer and thought to type something in the hopes that I can escape my misery.

I've been blog hopping over the past week. One article in particular by Richard Cohen has been occupying my thoughts in my quieter moments. The post (and resulting comments) dealt with questions I've been wondering about, the impact of blogging in our society, the value of my own type of writing. In the end, I found myself asking, at what point does a fictional piece become a memoir? Where is that fine line?

I've always liked writing "creative non-fiction" (the term slightly repulsing Matt Bell). I enjoy telling my personal tales in delicate language, decriptive language. Sometimes, I go farther though. Sometimes I take an event from my life and use it as fodder for short stories, or the beginning of the occasional unfinished novel. "Secretary" for instance...I was that girl in the door one time. I turned the situation around, making commentary on certain problems that might never be remedied no matter the law. My experience was the influence for the short story, but not the script. On the other hand, I wrote a story once about a woman who had a penchant for killing off her dependent boyfriends. I never did that. But the character drove a VW Bug that was very much like my best friend's Bug that she drove. And the guy...well, he reminded me of myself in some ways, giving, dependent, oblivious. And the poem...that never happened, but I do remember feeling sad, losing love, realizing that all the poetry in the world would never bring him back to me.

Where is that line though, and what of the "blogging world?" Is it really leading to the decline of fiction? Just because so many can now post their own stories in their own unique styles, which all might be just prettied up personal experience? Which is not that much different than what Dante did or James Joyce. Those authors were heavily dependent on their personal experiences. Their work pulled real-world experience and, thanks to their creative genius, spat out those experiences in the form of fantastic fiction.

They used an already-existing medium and ventured into new territory with their particular works. They raised the bar for fiction, for creative writing.

I tend to think blogging is simply another medium. Yes, it's accessible, but not all that widely. It's accessible only to the technology-friendly folks, first off. Navigating the blogs itself takes experience, takes time. Getting read by others takes real effort. You have to get on other Blogrolls (new term), you need to get on bloggie (made-up term) search-engines, you need to get out there. Ultimately, you have to have something good to say to make an impact. Good writing, good fiction, good poetry, good memoirs.

Blogs are not going to take the place of literary journals or the small presses. I do not believe that commercial fiction will take over. There will always be the revolutionary reader and writer who will seek out something different and special. Something better than the best-selling non-fiction and fiction.

So, to get anywhere, you're going to have to raise the bar. Or...get fired for saying something really, really bad on your blog.

In the end, I don't feel worried about the future of fiction or memoirs at the hands of the blog. All fiction in my opinion comes from our real lives in some way or another, whether it's from observing the world from freight cars or experiencing it ourselves while driving our kids to school and back. The line between great fiction, great memoirs, and the common boring blog will be found. Good work is going to come from those who rise above the rest, like the cliche cream. The "good" writers will do it no matter what the medium.

As they say...this is all just my little old opinion.


hokkaidoabbey said...

Hi Adriana Bliss,

This isn't really a response to your present post, but to say thanks for your nice remark at my blog. I intended to say hello to you earlier, but was sidetracked by a heavy work-week and by the wish to read the entries on your blog with the care they deserve. You write very well yourself. I like how much care and seriousness you place in your ponderings and musings, and I share your fascination with the fiction "process". Yours is one of the best blogs I've found. I look forward to reading more.

narrator said...

Does the line matter? If Ulysses is 40% experience or 70%? If To Kill a Mockingbird is 97%? Storytelling is either good or its not. Since we don't actually know most authors, we are simply experiencing the story, and if its really good, it might be revealing larger truths, but that has nothing to do with whether something actually happend "that way," or even happened at all...

Matt said...


Now you're going to get all the creative non-fictioners mad at me!

Honestly, when experience becomes fiction, that makes perfect sense to me. It's when experience becomes a lie/gross exagerration that is still presented as non-fiction that it bothers me.

This is an excellent post, well thought out and well-written. Thanks for the mention (but don't get me into any trouble!).


Adriana Bliss said...

Hokkaidoabbey, you're so welcome! And thank YOU for your lovely comments - I want to say, "Awww shucks..." I look forward to more of your stories, too. :)

Narrator - exactly how I feel. Your work is a great example of personal experience being turned into great stories that you might be calling fiction (or not). You remind me of a point I wanted to make - that the author determines what category, if you will, their work falls into.

Which leads me to Matt Bell's post, which made me laugh and feel a little bad over. ;) I do hope you won't get into trouble! Your point is well taken - exaggeration does make for lousy non-fiction. However, I do think, that truly good non-fiction is separated from the less-than-good non-fiction, i.e. gossip biographies or kiss-and-tell autobiographies. They play a certain role in our society, they feed a certain need, but they won't replace good work.

Thanks everyone for chiming in...I can't tell you how nice it was to pop in here and find some response so quickly and from such learned folks.

rick said...

my family is filled with preachers. the old type, bible beaters...

my grandfather once told me that if you were called to preach the word, you would know. it burns in your bones.

for 15 years, words have burned my bones. stuck deep inside my cavity, craving release. slowly, i roll them out. one post at a time, with little regard to the correctness that my teachers once drilled.

my words are different from my families preachers. they aren't meant to sway, or convict, or enlighten. their just the by-product of my overactive mind...

excellent post... you made me think before 9am. that's not easily done.

Carolyn said...

Hi, As a former legal secretary, I recall cases that are great idea starters for stories and have considered attempting to write one based on a case. I would never divulge real names or information that may cause a problem for the legal firm or the parties involved. However, how would one who lives in a small community write a fact-based fiction story so that no one would guess it came from the local news? I'm not a polished writer by any means, and I'm not saying it would even make the public scene, but there are local publications that sponser contests for area writers and I suppose one of mine could qualify for entry. (I do not mean to solicit info from you here, but I don't have John Grisham's address, lol ;)

I love to write and wish I were better at the craft. I tend to lean toward personal essays about things I experience or see with a quirky mind. Flash fiction is also fun and fires up my imagination now and then.

Lately, I have written about personal happenings that are of deeper emotion for me. I find that truthful writing of that nature is harder on me emotionally, and is probably not an interesting read for others. Perhaps those emotions would best be fitted into a fictional character. I have posted some of my essays and short stories on my blog but have gained few critique. It seems most bloggers do not read postings over 50-100 words. I've read some interesting and descriptive pieces on writers blogs that still have no real beginning, middle, or end. Although well pieced together, I view them as "postcards" or settings for a story that could/should be expanded upon. The "writer" rarely ever does and I'm left to wonder how an unfinished snippet makes one a writer.

Oh gosh, this post really got me going and I could still discuss. I apologise for my windiness, lol! Thank you for your thought-stirring post and your time :)

Adriana Bliss said...

Rick, I'm glad to have given you something to think about. Now you see what Mr. Cohen's post did to me for the past week. I know what you mean about feeling "called" to write - I've heard said that a writer doesn't want to write, but needs to write in order to live. And a note, your words are beautiful creative non-fiction.

Carolyn, thank you so much for posting here! Nice to meet you. Yes, I can see your dilemna. One idea is to take a situation which interests you and pull the most interesting parts of it (the emotions involved, perhaps) and place those on the faces of persons in opposite situations. Life should influence the story, but...not be a script for it. One always has to take care to protect the innocent and make sure you don't libel anyone. :)

I find the toughest thing when handling a wish to write short stories is subject matter. I've heard suggestions to read the newspaper, want ads, etc. Also many of the writing books (such as Writing Alone by Pat Schneider, or the Writers Book of Days by Judy Reeves, or the Story Starter by Lou Willet Staneck, Ph.D.) with their many writing exercises can spur a short story.

A point about critiques - I think the blogging world isn't set up for it. There's an assumption that the blogger is expressing themselves with a wish to be heard, as opposed to be critiqued. For critiquing, one has to join a writing group. One online writing site with a goal towards critiquing others is Not a perfect place, but you can find groups within that community to help you along. In the meantime, I took a peek at your place and I think you're on a fine path. You write beautifully, with a gentle tone.

Thanks again, Carolyn, for commenting here! Very cool.

Carolyn said...

Hello again Adriana,
I returned to review my comments as 'narrator' stopped by my blog and commented on my post here. I had to refresh my memory on what I'd posted (which happens a lot in my mid 40 years, lol) I read your nice reply to me and want to thank you for being so complimentary. (If you ever read one of my rants you may change your mind about the gentle tone, though. LOL!)

I agree about blogging and critique, and yes, the writers groups are the best place for that. I am a member in a couple, but thought I'd see what, if any, critique I might recieve from a non-membership network to help me improve. While some writing groups are helpful, I find that often the critiquers critique each others critique, thus the writers work gets lost in the scuffle. I appreciate your peeking in on my blog and do hope you visit again anytime. I'm open to any comments on my stories, or even a simple 'hello' :) I would love to return here and enjoy more of your blogging as well! Take care.

hokkaidoabbey said...

A tepid addition to this dialogue:

Readers are drawn to read both fiction and non-fiction by qualities (such as varieties of conflict, danger, and strangeness) shared by both categories. Fiction and non-fiction writers record, report, decorate, embellish, exaggerate, etc. events using similar strategies and techniques, whose very use colors even "true" events in a way that renders their veracity dubious. Our own perceptions / recollections of occurrences, distorted as they are by prejudices and imperfections both affective and neurochemical, are fanastically unreliable (as research on eyewitness accounts has shown), so that any account of "truth" is, at least, unstable.

I have a feeling that a substantial chunk of the controversy about writing "creative non-fiction" is that it offends our agreed-upon constructs of what "fiction" and "non-fiction" should be. Our comfortable illusion is that the demarcations separating the two are as rigid and perceptible as black from white, or solid from liquid, or male and female, because coddling this illusion permits another comforting one; namely, that our perceptions are perfectly reliable.

I don't think that playing around with the fuzzy borders between fiction and nonfiction is a problem, as long as real, innocent people are not insulted or libeled. I feel a bit lazy if I use real happenings in my fiction, but that's my own thing. The fuzziness itself can be played with, to great effect, as in
"Adaptation" (the Spike Jonz / Charlie Kaufman / Susan Orlean creation), or anything by H.S. Thompson.

The real horror behind using real-life events is when they're exploited by powerful people to satisfy greed or commit violence.
The selling of the war in Iraq is an example.

Adriana Bliss said...

Thank you for that excellent-not-tepid addition, hokkaidoabbey. Great points - especially questioning the "truth" of people's perceptions. Observation will always be colored with the author's viewpoint which can be grossly different from another seeing the same events. Leading to that question, "What is the truth?"

You remind me of a controversy going on with digital pictures - in the photography arena, people are getting very bent out of shape when a photographer "photo-shops" their pictures. It's okay if the picture is called "art." It's totally unacceptable in arenas of criminal reporting (i.e. taking pictures of crime scenes)...but in journalism, the line is not so clear. Can you photo-shop to clean up the available light? Can you photo-shop to get rid of annoyances in the way of the target subject? People at this point depend on the photographer to tell them what the picture is: art (fiction) or factual representation (non-fiction).

Thanks for coming made my crawling out of bed worthwhile. :)

butterstar said...

If my brain was working better right now, I am sure I could respond to this lovely post. But it's not. I'm not sure who to blame for that.

I've tried to respond three times already, but everything I say comes out garbled. I will blame the depleted ozone layer. Because it's there. Or rather, not there. err. hmm. See what I mean?

Your blog is filled with the beautiful, Adriana. That's no small thing.

Adriana Bliss said...

Butterstar, what a wonderful thing seeing your little name here. Thank you for the kind words. And as to having an ozone-affected brain...welcome to the club! :)