For the next couple of months, I’m going to run this weekly series, FictionSpeak, because, well, I’m a poet trying to write fiction, which seems like it could be worth talking about.
I started writing fiction a few weeks ago. I’m writing this fiction in a square yellow sketchbook. Just like a poet to be writing fucking fiction in a square fucking sketchbook, you say. On top of that, I’m only writing on one side of the page. And I’m only writing in snapshots that will ostensibly form a novel. It’s probably a disgrace to fiction writers everywhere, what I’m doing. I don’t understand things about dialogue or character development. I really don’t understand plot. Zip. Zilcho. I think I’m decent at description and setting and emotional arc, poetical things, so then why am I not writing poems in my new fancy-pants sketchbook. Because I already have a black vinyl, lined notebook for poems, silly.
Originally, this fiction-in-a-sketchbook thing was going to be memoir. Then I read The Chronology of Water the other weekend. Then I picked up Sarah Manguso’s The Two Kinds of Decay, which I’m reading right now, and I thought two things. One, I don’t have the stuff of a memoir yet. Two, these books are great to read if you want to write fiction. For different reasons. Lidia Yuknavitch for voice and fierceness. Manguso for matter-of-factness and snapshot.
Back in grad school at ole Emerson, I’m pretty sure there was a fiction-writing-for-poets course, or maybe a poetry-for-fiction-writers course. I never took either. Navigating fiction makes me feel like I’m walking into a Templar initiation ceremony or something. It’s dark. There are candles. Robes. Dorky music. A guy in a mask with a sword doing degrading things to another guy who poses just the right way to look simultaneously mysterious and mastered.
My first question is this. Writing fiction forces me to dredge up weird shit from my past and use it with different characters and settings. I mean, I’m raping my life wholesale. Is that normal? Somebody said to me yesterday, “Change the facts enough so your family doesn’t recognize them.” My feeling is that I’ll change them just enough to fit the narrative, just enough to make them work for me. I mean, that’s what poets do…