Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On writing: the place between reality and imagination

I recently had an exchange with another Lucky Press author, Madeline Sharples, whose memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, I had the pleasure of reviewing.  I said something to the effect that there is an interesting distance between what inspires us to write and the writing process itself.  She, sadly, lost her eldest son, Paul, to suicide.  This event was the impetus for her choice to write through the unspeakable anquish to produce a memoir with the hope that sharing her trial could help someone else work through his or her own trial.  I shared with her (and I'm elaborating upon the feelings I had) that there is something cold, maybe clinical about writing a review of such a work as hers.  Here is a woman who lost her son, HER SON, and here I am, an academic, dissecting her thoughts and words to produce an analytical response.  I felt like a medical examiner. 
Perhaps there is no other way to respond.  If anything, this is something to consider at length.
My continual struggle to impart the love of literature to my students, I think, has at its core the dilemma of getting my students to respond emotively to the works.  Understanding the components of "good" literature, recalling plot structures, character motivations, and the like can never be the full breadth of what it is to appreciate literature.  One has to laugh, cry, feel anxious -- in a word, empathize -- with the characters.  The ability of a work to do this is the measure of its status as "literature" and not just some clever words on a page.
My book, All the Bad Things, is loosely based on a true story (as, I suppose, most works borrow heavily from real life).  If I could have any wish granted regarding my book, it would be that readers empathize with Robbie Toe -- feel with him the cold, hard jail floor, the angry looks, the fear, the bewilderment.  If my book is able to do this, then what it will accomplish is, in essence, a parlaying of the initial reality that was the inspiration to the reader.  In other words, there is the event or inspiration (reality), the creative retelling of that reality, and, in the end, the reader experiencing that same reality through the author.  If I am able to recreate the reality for the reader, even if I have only ten readers, then I will consider this work a success.

1 comment:

  1. Jason, Thanks again for reviewing my memoir. I did not find the review clinical at all. I know a lot of yourself went into it.
    All best on your book.