Fiction: Craft Notes on Separation Anxiety

It’s officially a whirlwind summer, folks. I think about Alaska everyday. I think about money everyday. I think about not thinking about money everyday. I think about writing stories, stories, stories. I think about applying for a residency at Big Sur or Badlands. I think about the fact that living close to the tides would instantly do wonders for my nonfiction and eventually do wonders for my fiction.

I love the way that life seeps in and then comes back out again onto the page. In nonfiction, it is the most direct and traceable. But in fiction, it’s so hidden I often don’t even see it myself until months later. In some ways I prefer not to see connections between my real life and surroundings and the written, fiction lives I put onto the page. As one of my advisors told me at Pacific, “I put up an iron shield between myself and my fiction.”

I think when it comes to the nuances and details, that statement can be mostly true. But when it comes to the timbre of a fiction writer’s aim in life, or the spirit of a fiction writer’s hope for humankind or judgment of society, his or her deepest sentiments are in fact the ruling force of the story’s undercurrent. Without this force, a story risks being limp, unconvincing, or lacking in spirit.

Tomorrow, a short story that I wrote a year and a half ago goes live in Perigee, an online journal for the literary arts. According to another one of the Pacific faculty, “Perigee has a fantastic readership. The kind of readership you’d want.” That was my thinking when I submitted the story. Now that it’s time for it to be born into the broader world of a readership, I feel myself wincing just a little bit at the thought of how close to home some of the content of the story is. The setting and small town dynamics are lifted from my own life, plopped down in a different state, and gender-reversed. When I wrote the piece, however, I was not conscious of a single trace of those connections—and thank goodness, or I might have stopped writing.

That said, the pronoun in fiction is always the writer’s defense. The “I” in tomorrow’s story is a 40-something male who can’t fully let himself love in life, whether he is trying to love art or women or even the people he shares the small town with. The “I” is not me and it is not anybody that I know in real life. This story came to me whole. It came like a song…the rhythm of the voice pulling me to the page, and the command of this man telling me something that apparently needed to be said. I know that when a writer talks about “channeling” he or she risks abstraction or sentimentality. But I cannot think of any other way to say it other than this character had a voice and I could literally hear it in my head. I listened to it and wrote it down.

We’ll see how it is received.

Part 2 Pine Tree pre-test: 22 min (didn’t do chin ups)
Part 1 Pine Tree pre-test: 30 min 55 sec (It’s harder running after all those kicks!)
Total time: 52:55 (that’s 1:35 faster than last time and with a shorter break between events!)

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