Thursday, November 19, 2009
If you were to write a non-fiction book, what would your topic be?
Like Sophie, CJ and Becky, I've done some hard time. You know, on the Rock. Not Alcatraz ... sorry, I may wear a fedora, but I'm not that old. No, The Rock is also known as the Island of Misfit Writers (with apologies to Rankin/Bass and Rudolph).
Y'see, we've got these monsters--er, creative energies--that live inside of us, and they just gotta come out. So we find ways ... from Sophie's fabric chickens and Oliver Wendell Holmes (hey--was he ever attacked by a fabric chicken? Did he ever defend a fabric chicken?) to Becky's tech writing, to CJ's medical reports. We spin out a word there, trot out a turn of phrase there, put a flourish on a song or tinker on the piano. 'Cause it's damn hard to squeeze in creativity when you're trying to squeeze out a living ... so you takes what you can get.
Me, I started out as a Drama major, and fully planned to do something creative with my life. Life left that career behind, and at one time about the only creative thing I was doing was writing sonnets and playing the harmonica. Not at the same time, though.
Eventually I wound up in solitary confinement on The Rock. A place called The Academy, where creativity can be a very dangerous occupation. Fortunately, I had some understanding people around me, and I got a chance to tinker with translations of ancient poetry ... won a couple of awards, and that helped give me enough confidence to think maybe I could write a novel. Did that in graduate school, and that's how NOX DORMIENDA was hatched. In between I studied a lot of history and what's called historiography, which is basically the history of history. I don't know what the history of historiography is called, but I'm sure there's a word for it ... there always is.
Anyway, I was published in a scholarly way before NOX. Not just my MA thesis, though that's part of the record, and if anyone is curious about the Orphic symbolism behind the character of Pentheus in Euripides' Bacchae, I'm sure it's not checked out. No, I was published in journals, too ... my most noteworthy article was about Wonder Woman and classical mythology. I turned down two other opportunities for such-type publication, 'cause I was working on this crazy idea for a novel.
Y' see, I discovered--after seven long years in solitary at the Rock's Academy--that history IS about fiction. History is opinion, history is a story, history is narrative, and no historian I have ever read--even the best, and I've been privileged to know a few personally--is entirely without bias. The old saw that history is written by the winners? Very true. One reason so little literature remains of female poets from ancient Greece ... but I digress.
So even when I was still on The Rock--still finishing up my degree--I didn't want to write history. History is Kurosawa's Rashomon -- a splintering of subjectivity that takes more ego and less sensitivity than any poor wannabe thriller writer could muster.
I wanted to write stories IN history ... to make history a part of our every day life, to make it personal and meaningful and human. As a scholar, I was also interested in cultural analysis, in interpreting why we do the crazy things we do. One of the publishing opportunities I turned away was based on a conference presentation I gave at the University of Melbourne that was founded on a simple (and geeky) question: Why was pop culture in the 70s so obsessed with the occult? Why couldn't superheroes escape the "Night Gallery" treatment?
[Slight explanation due: you'll notice comic books and superheroes are a common theme here. I've always been a comic book fan, used to own a shop, and am a pop culture fanatic ... in fact, I think popular culture is the surest way to understand any culture (including classical ones).]
So. To make a long and rambling story a little shorter: IF I were to write a non-fiction book, it would be a cultural analysis type thing. Probably about comic books and odd little cultural trends that puzzle me (my presentation ultimately covered American society's swing between science and occult from the 30s to the present).
That, and a guide to urban living I call Always Wait for the Second Bus.
But really ... all I wanna do is tell stories, and now that I've managed to swim off the Rock, I'm clutching my life preserver, and don't plan to ever let go.
Say, is that a fabric chicken floating by? ;)