Fiction. Now more than ever.

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 10, 2017 9:23 PM

I saw an article headline today on Slate about why writing fiction is so hard in the toddler error. It was entitled The Urgency of Writing Fiction in the Trump Era and in it, writers Ben Winters and Hector Tobar talked about … actually I have no idea because the article was behind the pay wall and while I pay for some online content, I have not subscribed to Slate Plus. I did a quick google search and came up with a tone of articles about much the same topic. The majority talked about having a new sense of urgency in addition to a responsibility. Ernest Hemingway said “The writer’s job is to tell the truth.” A hard job to be sure in this error of time.

Interestingly, the professor of the current class I’m taking says nearly the opposite of what Hemingway said. In one of our lectures, he informed us that we were all about to become expert liars. However, the current stories we’re working on all stemmed from something that actually happened to us or to someone we know. So I suppose both Hemingway and McNeely (my current prof) are correct. 

I have always loved the escape of fiction. When I was young, a long time before there was Amazon or, I used to go to the town library where I would check out two or three books at a time. My reading for the week. It wasn’t uncommon for me to polish off a book over the course of 24 hours. I never read non-fiction, other than for school, preferring to immerse myself in the lives of people I imagined to be real rather than those who actually were. Fictional people are just deeper, more nuanced and infinitely prone to situations, sometimes of their own making, sometimes not, where they have to change. Maybe they change for the better, maybe for the worse, but they are forced by circumstance to do something in keeping with who they are.

After I became a professional writer, my reading time dropped, especially after I went out on my own. The hours I work are long, though worthwhile financially, and I often don’t have the energy to do much of anything, including read. In this new error of time, I find myself reading too much non-fiction and it makes my heart ache for a good work of fiction wherein the bullying, amoral antagonist gets just what he deserves. I remain hopeful. 

Only for the briefest time when I was young did I dream, as most young girls, of being either a famous singer or a famous actress. Staying truer to my more introverted ways, what I really wanted to be was a writer, an author. If I became famous for that, all the better. But being able to create worlds and populate those worlds with characters both good and bad, and then escorting them toward their logical end is what gives me hope still, even today. It’s why I’m taking classes. 

My first class was in the fall and didn’t end until after the election. I had a story due and I found myself almost unable to concentrate, both before and after November 8. I was terrified of what would happen and then it did. Reality was too much to bear. The idea of trying to channel my anger and disappointment, my fear and loathing, my sheer terror into something fictional just seemed beyond me especially since I don’t write horror stories.

Perhaps I should try. 

The class I’m taking now has existed entirely while the toddler has been first the elect and now the official. Somehow I’ve been able to write much more clearly, and I actually think better since … him. I don’t know why. But this quote by Kurt Vonnegut pretty much sums it up: “The reason we write fiction is because it’s so much easier to exist spending part of each day in an imaginary world.”

It’s the escape, and that alone is worth celebrating.

Just a hobby

by Lorin Michel Monday, February 29, 2016 7:10 PM

I don't have a lot of hobbies. I like to read though I don't do it often enough and I don't really consider it a hobby. I don't garden or knit. I like to cook and experiment with different ideas in food. That might be a hobby. I love to go wine tasting and learn about wine and grapes. That's probably kind of a hobby.

A hobby is defined as an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure.

So I guess wine tasting is a hobby after all.

What isn't a hobby is writing, not the way I do it. This seems to be contrary to what many people, especially those that publish online content, believe. Sites like the Huffington Post thrive on bloggers and the written word to keep them up to date and interesting. They don't pay anything. Because writing continues to be thought of as a hobby rather than a craft.

I'm lucky to make a very good living writing. It's all I ever really wanted to do save for that brief moment in 8th grade when I was going to be a rock star. I started writing when I was little. I would have a small notebook that fit in my pocket and a nub of a pencil. I would climb a tree, pick a nice, thick branch to straddle and write stories of a heroine named Julie.

I excelled in my English classes in junior high and high school. I got As on short stories that usually involved a monster. Teens often write about the darkness and the scary. I think it's because their lives are also somewhat dark and frightening. I went to college as an art major but quickly discovered I wasn't very good, and that I didn't have the passion or commitment to make myself better. I went back to what I loved and got a degree in English, Creative Writing.

My first real writing job happened when Sebastian International took a chance on me, hiring me as their junior copywriter. Never mind that I was also their only copywriter. I had to prove myself in order to become, eventually, their senior copywriter. They paid me well though not exorbitantly. It was a hair care company, it was the early 1990s. I loved it; loved the creativity. There's nothing like writing about makeup to teach you how to describe nothing and make it sound irresistible. My first husband hated my job. He used to refer to it as "that f$%#ing company you work for." It hurt me because I enjoyed it so. I came to realize that it wasn't the company that he hated. It was the fact that I was in a creative field working with highly creative people, many of whom are still my good friends. He was threatened somehow. He also used to tell me that what I did was just a hobby, not a real job. This is reason number 87 why we eventually got divorced. Once we did end the marriage, interestingly, my career took off. My "hobby" became quite successful.

I think that people think of writing as a hobby because it's so nebulous. It's esoteric. It's not tangible. It comes from places deep inside, and I think it scares some people. Most people I know, including highly educated professionals, hate to write. It intimidates them; locks them up.

Others simply don't quite understand it as a profession. We went out to dinner with a friend of mine and her significant other several months ago. He's a retired attorney. He was nearly apoplectic that people would hire me to write books for them. Professional people. People like doctors. In his mind, highly educated people should be able to write. I pointed out that they can write; they just can't write well. There is a difference and it's the reason people hire me.

I am lucky, I know, to make a living doing what I do and doing what I love. I thank dog for it everyday. I am blessed.

Now if only I could figure out how to get my wine tasting to make me some coin I'd be really living it out loud.

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