Saturday, September 22, 2007

From nonfiction to fiction

Amy asks why I decided to write a novel after writing nonfiction. In case anyone else was wondering, I'll answer here. I always wanted to write a novel, but for a while I didn't have the confidence to believe I could. With a background writing articles, I figured I could write nonfiction, but my dream was always to write a novel. I've always loved to tell stories.

A couple of things happened that gave me the courage to try: One, I married a man very supportive of my writing. Someone who believed I could write whatever I wanted to write. He didn't say, Write a novel, but with him around playing music, I was inspired to write more. And the more I wrote the more I started to think maybe I could pull it off.

Having people in my life who believe in my writing is a gift beyond words, and I'm very grateful for it. Some people find it threatening when you pursue a dream. It makes them have to look at why they aren't pursuing their own dreams. So to all those who have NOT been threatened, but rather inspired and encouraged, I say thank you from the bottom of my heart!

The thing that made me start writing in the first place was that my mother died. I knew many of the stories I would tell would come from the ghosts of my childhood, and I couldn't imagine writing for publication (fiction or nonfiction) when she was alive. Three months after she died, I wrote an op-ed for The Denver Post. Told the whole city my opinion. About six months after that, I was writing my first nonfiction book. That was fifteen years ago, and as I've gotten more accustomed to exposing myself through my writing, I'm less afraid of what others think. And, because my family has been so supportive of my writing, I'd like to think my mother would be too. I know she would be proud: I got my love of reading from her.

The biggest surprise to me about writing fiction is that it feels far more revealing than nonfiction. Anybody else feel that way? With nonfiction, I know I'm choosing what parts of myself to show. But with fiction, things come out that I have no control over, and that's a little scary. But I love it and I hope to write many more novels.


Anonymous said...

I know exactly what you mean about fiction showing more of your slip than non-fiction. The really scary thing about fiction is that you are quite possibly revealing things (or at least hinting at) that you as the writer are not even consciously aware of, but your readers may be.

I always wonder if this is why so many fiction writers adamantly insist that their novels are not based on their experiences. Because what's on the page can end up so twistedly real, it would be awful to admit you think, feel, or act the way some of your characters may. It's so much safer for a writer (and their family) to deny any relation to page people.

We only make them up, but they still smell a lot like us and people we have known.

Sustenance Scout said...

Funny this was mentioned Sunday morning at the Tobias Wolff lecture/talk about fact in fiction, Carleen. It's amazing what slips in between the lines, but it's also amazing what readers bring to their reading of your work. I think with your first novel you're going to find this a fascinating phenomenon.

And I KNOW your mom's proud of you!

Ello said...

Great post! I think it is so important to have people around you who will support you and your writing because writing is such a difficult profession to undertake. I haven't written nonfiction, unless you call my legal memos nonfiction ;o). But I do think writing fiction is revealing because it is almost like you are opening up a window to your soul.

Carleen Brice said...

Good one, Rebecca. Characters do smell like us and people we've known.

Scout, I'm already familiar with the strange things people bring to the reading of the work. Thanks for the comment about my mom.

Ello, Let's hope your legal memos are nonfiction! :)

Lisa said...

I'm so glad you posted about this because I was wondering about the addition of fiction to your substantial non-fiction accomplishments too. Many people believe that art of fiction is, at its best, a manifestation of the artist's/writer's subconscious. I think I believe that's true of the most successful works (successful meaning the ones that work, not the ones that sell). Of course the subconscious is such a deep ocean underneath the surface of our conscious selves that what emerges is often a surprise to everyone and probably has little bearing on the writer's real world. I believe the subconscious is where the words come from during those rare times (and I wish I could will them more often) when it feels like I'm "in the zone". I know your mother would be proud of you. :)

The Writers' Group said...

Fascinating post, thanks for sharing. I know everyone says that fiction reveals more of the writer than nonfiction, but that isn't true in my case -- at least not with my current project. I really lay myself out with my essays, though.

Carleen, isn't it odd to write about family in your nf? I know I've crossed the line at times, but I've never regretted it.


Carleen Brice said...

Amy, I don't think I've laid myself as bare in my nf. I've expected responses from my family that I didn't get. Maybe it's just whatever project I'm working on at the time is the scary one? :)

reality said...

Hi Carleen,

I'm here through Lisa at Eudemonia.
And sometimes i wonder if I should start writing short pieces of NF. Journalism has always attracted me. Fiction much more, because I like to create what didn't exist before. There is some sort of magic in the process.

Carleen Brice said...

Reality, maybe you can use what appeals to you about journalism in your fiction? Build on a true story?

Thanks for stopping by!