About a week ago I was making good headway on a new fantasy short. I was twenty-two handwritten pages into the manuscript when something terrible happened. I lost a friend. No, not by death, but willful separation. 2016 was a bitter year, and I was foolish enough to think that I'd get out of it untouched by the election fallout. Despite the Facebook rants and riots in the streets, I thought it wouldn't touch me like it has.
As a result, my work stopped cold. Even now the draft sits unfinished. My enthusiasm hasn't gone, only the will and proper mindset to work on it immediately. For the past few years I've been devoted almost singularly to science fiction and fantasy. I wrote the occasional historical short, maybe a poem or two when I felt like nothing else. Every time I deviated, I quickly retreated back to the exotic and the fantastical. I never thought of myself as a literary writer, though I enjoy reading literary fiction. I always felt more at home among the stars and dragons of my imagination.
But every now and again the occasional demon will disrupt the magic, distort the illusion, and I'm forced to reckon with reality. Fact: I used to have a good friend. Fact: They severed our friendship because of political differences. Fact: It hurts.
No matter how hard I tried, these facts wouldn't go away. I couldn't think of anything else. I don't like leaving things half-done, but I knew I wouldn't be able to continue unless I tackled the subject. So, I wrote a different story, eighteen pages long, based on a real incident in my not-too-distant past. I had to capture the feelings that were possessing me: frustration, sadness, indignation, and confusion. I won't know if I succeeded until I start editing later this week. I hope so. It wasn't easy.
Literary fiction has always been one of my great weaknesses. I just don't think I have the stuff to make stories about real people in the real world interesting. Hemingway did. Steinbeck did. Lee did. They were masters of observation, and their experiences taught them a lot about the human condition, which informed their writing. Me? I'm a young conservative white guy who's lived a peaceful existence. No wars, divorces, child abuse, or great struggles against the powers that be. I've met some neat people and seen some amazing things, but I'm pretty ordinary.
Reading and writing have always been ways to escape from reality because in spite of my education and insight, I don't always understand it. And if that's true, how can I write something about it people will enjoy or learn from? Will they come away having identified with my characters, and by extension, my life? I'm terrible at writing about things that actually happened to me. Life isn't exciting, for the most part. As a historian and a writer I'm often paralyzed by the thought of inventing things to make the past more exciting or meaningful. It go against every bit of academic training I've ever had. Thus, I'm confronted with a problem that can only be solved by a skill I do not possess.
It's an interesting dilemma, and I'm eager to find a solution. Lucky for me, I have a tool to help.
A very Merry belated Christmas to you all, and a Happy New Year.
Power to the pen, even if it's unsure of what to write next.