Sunday, April 01, 2007

Your Hand Cannot Shake

I started my reading life leaning almost exclusively toward nonfiction, from Cotton Mather to Linda Goodman's Love Signs. I didn't like novels or stories if they weren't true, probably because at a very early age, I created fictions to explain how I felt or what I wanted in a way that would make people feel less nervous, to keep things on an even keel. It surprises me not at all that I grew up to love fiction and had almost no ability for nonfiction until I hit my thirties. It wasn't that the material differed from my life -- much of it was taken whole cloth. But when I wrote it as it happened, it flattened and died, whereas fiction made it come, if not alive, at least a little more animated. As a lover of memoir, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to utilize the form. What was the essential difference between the two genres? I finally came to the conclusion that when you write nonfiction, you must be sure of your voice. Your hand cannot shake. You guide the reader through territory in a way that can't be melodramatic or sentimental. In doing so, ironically you become a character, someone that the reader looks to for explanation. A story makes no such demands.
One of my favorite essayists, Cheryl Strayed, who has written both has the following to say about the work. "I love the freedom to write both fiction and nonfiction. In each I draw from the other: in my fiction I mine the actual events of my life—often changing them entirely by the time the piece is finished—and in my essays I utilize the writing craft of a fiction writer, paying close attention to character and dialogue and setting to structure the piece so that I'm not just relating an interesting story, but rather crafting a work of art that has meaning beyond the personal or confessional." This makes complete sense to me. My life didn't seem to have an arc, as Christopher complains to Paulie on The Sopranos. I would explain one thing to someone one way, the same thing to someone else in another way. It was all true, but the truth isn't as cut and dried as we might believe. It's often much worse than we'd like to say so we tell stories to help our readers understand that in fact, everything will come to an end. It may not be a happy ending, but it's an ending all the same, and sometimes that's the best one can hope for.

Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted." Percy Shelley, A Defence of Poetry
Cocktail Hour
Drinking music suggestion: Young Americans David Bowie
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Palm Sunday!
Seven more days until The Sopranos airs!


Charles Gramlich said...

A good point about how we need endings to stories. I'm somewhat the opposite of you in that I began reading only fiction, and only later began to read and write non-fiction. I typically find non-fiction easier, and I think it's because of the constraints of it, which can serve as guidelines.

the walking man said...

There was so much reading material in my house as a baby and toddler that i don't even know when i started to read.

Detroit had 3 newspapers at the time, 4 if you count the Michigan Chronicle which also was a staple and paperbacks by the hundreds. My parents were always reading something, but funny I don't remember bed time stories ever happening but I do remember my mom reading the paper to me while I sat in her lap.

And every book that got brought into the house got read by more than one person.
Not those buff dude and swaining chick s on the cover either. Probably this is why two of the sibs got into journalism.

Now although I will write non-fiction i have to try to stay within the boundry of objectivity, something I am not about anything; objective.

The fiction I have written i liked it better because i coud get away with big fat whopping lies and call them fact as long as it said novel on the cover sheet.

But then I tried my hand at historical fiction but while i enjoyed it. It is by far the one novel I have, that I had to do more research to make factualy accurate, that was a bummer because i always had to stop to fact check instead of just flowing.

But then a few years ago i took a class and now I know more forms of poetry than I would have ever thought existed and need a class to get me out of that toilet because the poetry is to easy to write, no matter the subject.

Even these half essays on your blog they just come running out like a spring water from the earth and i have to write what comes out like a soap box preacher, has to preach.

I have come to find though that after almost 53 years my life actually seems to me to have been pretty boring, not many storys because I spend most of my time alone, and the juicy stuff that would make for a story are things people told me in confidence.

But I know I have to kill the cursor by making it move and one day it won't be there anymore accusing me of neglect.

And as you said the readers must have an ending and todays ending is this fool is glad it's april 1 and there is decent weather predicted for the morrow.



the unsleeping bachman said...

It's the endings that are the hardest part for many people. I thought that was the nicest part about what you said, having to explain how a story is over, not neccesarily how to cope with the ending or a discusion on feelings, etc. The author must present the story in their terms; the reader always makes what they will of the art. The fictions we live out in our lives and minds are a huge part of the writing dynamo inside. Thank you for pointing this out to a lost sheep.

Christopher Moltisanti said...

I was really pissed when Ben Kingsley opted out of the movie I wanted to produce. And you're right, Michelle. Ark is important in writing--both the Ark of the Covenant and Joan of Ark, not to mention Noah's Ark. I'm really looking forward to making my movie in the last season of the Sopranos! Thanks for all your support, Michelle. And congratulations on your one year anniversary of blogging. On behalf of the Sopranos, we love you. Have a Happy Easter!

Mortimer Adler said...

The purpose of expository writing is to inform and instruct. The purpose of imaginative writing is to entertain. Mix the two genres at your own peril. However, the two aren't mutually exclusive.

Cardinal Spellman said...

That's a very nice religious setting in your photo, Michelle. I wish you all the blessings of Holy Week. Know of my prayers,
In Christ,

Cardinal Spellman

Paul said...


John Ricci said...

Dear Michelle
Bravo on a year well devoted to your arts and crafts so vigorously and well accomplished. Another lovely view and posts as always and that is quite a holy smile. I truly hope you have enjoyed a heart warming Palm Sunday and have a splendid Holy Week. I am sorry that I have still not figured out this new Blogger upgrade but rest assured that you remain strongly lodged in my heart and soul.

Susan Miller said...

I have tried to dedicate much of my time to fiction this year. It seems in the past I was needing someone to shoot straight with me so I was drawn to non-fiction. Nonetheless, whatever the story, straight truth or hidden truth, I am always drawn to particular voices.