Thursday, December 4, 2008

Writing the past in the present

I just posted on facebook that I have been writing about the past so much I am unclear about the present. It happens to me a lot.  I get so deeply involved in the world of places and characters that the present world begins to fade a little. There is always the sensation of coming up from underwater and blinking at things, trying to refocus.  When it's fiction, it's absolutely magical.  And when it's fact, it's a little more disconcerting because sometimes, you have to revisit the scenes of the crimes.

For most of the writers I know, memory is fierce, strong and indelible.  I'm a really happy person in my life, and my husband and son are fabulously sweet and silly,  but I gravitate to writing about dark or serious issues.  I love drama! My agent always tells me she loves reading about pain! (My son's in a drama company and the producer asked me, "why does such a happy person write such dark books?" Well, I think the answer is that is WHY I can be such a happy person!) Anyway,  I can catapult myself back to events in my past for nonfiction, and sometimes it isn't always so much fun.  I have been known to weep at the keyboard, or get tense and feel threatened.  I remember in detail every word someone said to me years ago and what I felt. 

Last year, at a reading in NYC, I was reading about my one real job, where I was told that because I was a novelist, I would probably be blamed for all errors since everyone would know I was thinking about myself rather than videos.  The same job turned out to be a nightmare when I miscarried a child before we had Max. Anyway, as I was reading, I forgot the audience, and for a moment, I was there again, standing in my boss's office, angry and stunned and sick.  People in the audience told me later that there were sparks coming off that reading. "What an actress!' someone told me, but the thing was, I wasn't acting.  (I am a terrible actress, as evidenced by my stint in my high school drama club!) I was simply there. In that moment. Reliving that past.

Writing about the past is a way for me to make sense of it.  To give it shape.  To hopefully make it into art.   And sometimes just to let it go.


Danielle said...

The Social Repercussions to Writing Fiction
I give in to social pressure more than most. Drugs nor alcohol have influenced me as hard. That's really interesting and very dark. They ask. Did that happen in your childhood, are you okay. I write fiction, things my mind has collected from news stories and living. The submersion you speak is both delicious and shameful to me. I emerge after extensively creating fiction and feel selfish. I believe this is why I don't have and end date to publish. Caroline how do you deal with this?

Caroline said...

How do I deal with the submersion or with people asking me if I am writing about them? In terms of the submersion, I married a writer who understands and most of my friends are writers. There are, of course, other people in my life who are not writers who do not understand, and I try to explain and if I can't, I say, "it's just a writerly thing."

I have always had people asking me if I am writing about people I know or things from my past and the truth is, the feelings, the emotions are mine, but the situations are made up. Or I imagine them so strongly, they feel true to me.

The trouble spot is when you do write about people you know. To protect yourself legally, you change names or places, but you try to tell the truth. But my advice to you is to just write, to allow the subnersion!