As long as I’m still in the 2010 catch-up mood, I noticed this in the queue: Number four in a series of thoughts and meditations on the words of some of my favorite writers from their interviews in The Paris Review.
Bow your heads as we read from St. Raymond’s epistle…
The fiction I’m most interested in has lines of reference to the real world. None of my stories really happened, of course. But there’s always something, some element, something said to me or that I witnessed, that may be the starting place. Here’s an example: “That’s the last Christmas you’ll ever ruin for us!” I was drunk when I heard that, but I remembered it. And later, much later, when I was sober, using only that one line and other things I imagined, imagined so accurately that they could have happened, I made a story—“A Serious Talk.” But the fiction I’m most interested in, whether it’s Tolstoy’s fiction, Chekhov, Barry Hannah, Richard Ford, Hemingway, Isaac Babel, Ann Beattie, or Anne Tyler, strikes me as autobiographical to some extent.
I don’t know if I can come up with as concrete an example as Carver, but looking back, even my most fantastical stories have a speck of something like that in them. It might not even be something central to the story, but it was something with enough resonance to me and enough relevance (I felt) to the story at hand. Sometimes, there are bits of conversations I’ve overheard. Sometimes, bits of conversations I want to have with someone. Some of my grievances, real or perceived, have poked their heads into my stories. People I know and their peccadilloes, too.
I don’t have a formula. I don’t just swap initials. I don’t have a rule about making a male female just so I can use his life details. What I do involves a lot of remixing and blending. So much so that if you look at something I wrote and ask, “Is this based on your life?” or “Is that character based on me?” I can honestly answer, “Well, sort of… not really. Kinda.”
The best example I can give isn’t my own work, but someone else’s.
Unbeknownst to the band The New Pornographers, the video for their song “The Laws Have Changed” pretty much encapsulates how I lost my religion (and this is probably the only time I’ll bring this up here). Seriously, I see every last bit of it captured here. Metaphorically, in some places; literally, in others. And not necessarily in line with the metaphorical or literal bits of the video itself. Only I know which bit pertains to what, and so it goes with what I write.
How much of me is in my stories? As much of me that’s in this video.