Posts tagged with "nonfiction" - Faerye Net 2008-07-04T10:48:40+00:00 Felicity Shoulders "Better because it's true" 2008-07-04T10:48:40+00:00 2008-07-04T10:49:33+00:00 <p>A few months ago, I spent a lot of time hanging around big-box bookstores. I visited the local Borders and B&#38;N daily in hopes of surprising my <a href="" target="links">first published work</a> on its first shelved day. The local Borders was more convivial and boasted more clearance racks of stationery, so I lingered there longer and noticed that there were two major genera of employees. One day, every counter would be occupied by listless, asymmetrically-coiffed young men with pendant chins; the next, by cheery middle-aged women with long hair and an ineffable air of library.</p> <p>It was one of these latter beings, friendly though they seemed, that shocked and distressed me. Standing in line one day, I listened to the woman at the counter chatting about books with the soccer mom before her with such loquacity that it gave you hope for the brick &#8216;n&#8217; mortar bookshop. The customer, recognizing a font of literary enthusiasm when she saw it, asked for recommendations: light, funny reading.</p> <p>The bookseller immediately launched into an elevator-pitch for a book she&#8217;d just read about an eccentric family, &aacute; la <em>Royal Tenenbaums</em>. As the customer obligingly chuckled, she finished, &#8220;I simply loved it, and it&#8217;s a memoir, so it&#8217;s better because it&#8217;s true!&#8221;</p> <p>Gentle reader, I gaped. Perhaps this underlying value statement is more than evident given the publishing world&#8217;s memoir obsession; perhaps you even agree with it on some fundamental level. But for this fictionist, the implicit statement that the same work would be a &#8220;good&#8221; novel and a &#8220;great&#8221; memoir was chilling.</p> <p>Is this true? And if so, why? There may be greater artistry involved in making a truly compelling narrative without breaking the bounds of personal history. But surely that lack of inventive liberty is balanced by the artistry necessary to create such a narrative out of whole cloth. Why is the book not its own achievement, to be judged on its own merits, on the world between its pages?</p> <p>Is the act of reading different if the reader believes the narrative to be reported fact? If the reader were not told until the end whether the book were memoir or novel, would her &#8220;star-rating&#8221; change upon hearing? And if so, what does that mean for our enjoyment of books &#8211; that we use them as artifacts, not just art; that we are unduly influenced by the biography of the author? Or does it simply mean we expect less of memoir?</p> <p>There are plenty of issues raised, many questions around the primacy of memoir in today&#8217;s writing market. Many of them, I hold, would benefit from the attention of fictionists as well as of nonfictionists. But I will stop this ramble here for now, and ask: do you agree with the Borders lady, reader? Is a satisfying, rollicking good read <em>better</em> if it&#8217;s true?</p> One of us! One of us! 2007-06-26T22:07:13+00:00 2008-06-08T11:53:49+00:00 <p><em>Names in this story have been changed to protect the silly (writers are seldom innocent).</em></p> <p>Some time last year a gifted non-fiction writer of my acquaintance, Karin, told me she did not understand fiction writers. &#8220;I couldn&#8217;t do that. How do you decide what happens?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;You just do. You find something cool, and have it happen, I guess?&#8221;</P> <p>She shook her head.</p> <p>Last night, I sat at a kitchen island chatting with Elsa, a wild-eyed fictionist like myself. Elsa wiped the blue formica clean as we spoke, the action almost subconscious for a fastidious parent.</p> <p>With the indiscreet clicking and clacking characteristic of dormitory doors, Karin emerged from her room. She looked stunned.</p> <p>&#8220;That surprised to see me?&#8221; I said.</p> <p>&#8220;Are we keeping you up, honey?&#8221; said Elsa.</p> <p>&#8220;I&#8217;m writing&#8230;a story.&#8221; She half-smiled.</p> <p>Elsa and I exchanged glances, then studied the transfigured face of our friend. &#8220;Fiction?&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;Yes. I never wrote any before. Never.&#8221;</p> <p>&#8220;You made something up!?&#8221; one of us said, and &#8220;Good for you!&#8221; the other, all at once, as we surged forward to grab Karin&#8217;s hands.</p> <p>The residencies are transformative, remarkable. They are crucibles and comfort. Imagine this change! Imagine the confirmed teller of truths &mdash; or, depending on your philosophy, seeker of them &mdash; turning to fiction. It can happen. After all, I&#8217;m a confirmed confabulator, and I just wrote this.</p>