f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: The Hardest Part

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Hardest Part

Acquisitions is a great job. I love it. That said, there’s obviously some portions of work that are more challenging than others.

Working through frustrations with authors is difficult. Thankfully, I have great authors so far, and that’s been hard but not terrifying. In fact, I think it has mostly strengthened our trust in each other.

Rejecting writers is hard. I understand how much of yourself you put into your work. I come along read a portion of it and say, “Thank you, but no.” It’s certainly awful to hear and it’s not fun to say. But this is a business and these things must go on.

The most challenging part though has been at writer’s conferences I’ve attended.

A potential author will approach me, introduce their book as a story about an incredibly devastating and difficult theme—abuse, recovery from abortion, depression, a child’s suicide—and then confess that the story is based on their own life experiences.

My reaction is irrelevant here.

The question I want to dwell on for a moment is the powerful role of writing as catharsis, the distinction between this writing and novels, and the imaginary line that exists in allowing life to fuel fiction without taking it over.

Also: I want sensitive to writers out there who are working through these issues. These are just my ideas at the moment. If I’m wrong, please, please challenge me on these things.

People endure pain of such a variety and intensity that I can barely understand it. The problem of pain still leaves me dumb and gazing heavenward. I’m not psychiatrist, but I know that moving through and conquering pain involves a number of steps and that having some kind of emotional outlet—be it talking in therapy, blogging, or writing a novel—can be an important portion of that movement.

The question though is whether the words written as catharsis can work as a novel.

To me, one of the fundamental elements of the novel is that it isn’t about you. It’s about characters. At its core it requires an empathy and a willingness to take on another’s perspective—even if that “other” is a fictional being whose perspective you’re helping to build.

To me, the process of catharsis and the ability to enter another’s perspective are at odds with each other. Catharsis is necessarily focused on the health and needs of you. Perspective, obviously, is getting outside of those needs and thoughts to try on others’ shoes.

Life as Fuel
It’s insane to say that we can’t use our life experiences to fuel our fiction. Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch didn’t emerge out of the ether.

So where’s the line? Can any cathartic writing be accessible to the masses? What about things like On the Road, which was essentially vomited onto the page over a weekend in a Benzedrine fueled haze.

I have no answers tonight. I don’t think I’m bold enough to offer any yet. If you have thoughts, I’d love to hear them. Have you written from a particularly difficult time in your life? What perspective did you need to gain on it to be able to approach it from a novelic POV?