Sunday, February 10, 2008

Fiction v. Non

Things are going well with the release of Ghost Notes and Songs from Memory at my Web site. (Yes, they've been on sale a week already! What? You don't own them yet? Get yours now!) I've sold about what I thought I would, and most everyone has bought both the book and CD. Comments on both have been coming in, and I'm humbled and grateful. It's always great to hear what people think.

As your book and CD head for your mailbox, it seems like a good time to address one of the most common questions I get about Ghost Notes, and my fiction in general. People inevitably ask some version of "How much of this is autobiography?"

The temptation to read my novels as such is pretty strong, especially among Refreshments fans, who are always looking for the "real story" about the band and its demise. Admittedly, it's not hard to draw lines from the characters and situations within Ghost Notes to real people and past situations. I've even gotten emails from readers/Refreshments fans who say that this makes them a little uncomfortable, that they feel like a voyeur, like they're seeing things they shouldn't be allowed to see.

I have to admit that whenever I read fiction, part of me looks for such things, too. Is the author writing about his life disguised as fiction? When the character talks about his wife, is it his wife he's talking about? His family? His feelings about the world? It's part of what makes the fiction experience interesting.

In fact, I think it's part of what makes good fiction. If it resonates enough with you to make you go "Is this real?", then I think the author is doing a good job.

So it would be disingenuous of me to ask you not to have that feeling as you read Ghost Notes. I want you to feel like it's truth. But I'm greedy; I also want you to understand it's not fact.

There are three places we can draw from when we write: personal experience, things we hear about or learn about, and things we make up. When we draw from personal experience, we write essay, or memoir, or autobiography. When we write about things we hear about, we write biography, or history, or journalism.

Because of this, we're tempted to say that fiction is the genre of writing composed entirely of things we make up, but that's not the whole truth. The fiction writer draws from all three of these groups. She uses personal experience, things she's learned about, and things she makes up. In fact, the three are so convoluted in fiction you could argue it's impossible to write fiction and not draw from all three of these groups. You wouldn't want to exclude any of them. Your job, as a fiction writer, is to write the best story, and you'll rob from any of these three categories to do that. Fiction has the largest palette of any of the genres of writing. That's why I love it.

For these reasons, it's very important you understand that, if you read Ghost Notes and think you come across a character, a place, or an event that seems like something autobiographical to you, you may be reading that, or you may be reading something entirely fictitious, or you may be reading some kind of composite. As a novelist, what "really happened," what's "fact," what's "history," and what's not is not really my concern. As a reader you're allowed to think whatever you want. Just remember, to me, it's all fiction. I'm trying to tell the best story I can.

One more thing on this point: I have great respect for the other four people who have been Refreshments, and I would never use fiction to somehow poke fun at, undercut, or otherwise flame any of them. Any "writer" who uses fiction to a similar end sullies the genre, and I have no time for it or for them. Life's already hard enough, and I would hope others would take the above into consideration before they assume, after reading Ghost Notes, anything about anyone else. (Remember, you may be wrong entirely.)

I think Ghost Notes speaks better for itself than I speak for it, but I felt the need to clarify that before people start getting their books (and CDs) in the mail.

Thanks. I feel better now.

Next week, we'll (finally) talk about shows.


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