The Daily Conflict Of Creative Non Fiction: Or I Can Publish This After So and So Dies

As a writer of both fiction and creative non-fiction, this concept is a tricky one. I’ve certainly included character traits of folks I know in my fiction. I’ve even made someone I know a murderer. I joke about my collection of short stories as a book I can publish after my mother dies. A lot of us don’t have Mayberry type families. We come from a long line of crazy whether it stems from abuse, insanity or just plain bad parenting. Some of us have all of that wrapped up in one big package. You writers out there know that it’s one of the things that inspire our creativity. I, for one, am a keen observer of people because I’m fascinated by the pathology of our lives. Like Pat Conroy, in the article The Problem with Writing About The People You Know, I have a complicated relationship with my folks. I don’t blame them for my garbage, but my garbage was much easier to understand when I looked back on their origins, their relationship and my mother’s revised version of things.

I have a love hate relationship with our particular brand of crazy, and I work every day to come to terms with it. I’m not white washing it despite some of my family member’s delicate sense of propriety. As Anne Lamott is quoted, “Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.”

Thousands of hours of therapy has helped me look at my own issues under a glaring white light. I’m okay with that. Our flaws are part of what imbues our character with geography. We all have scars, whether they’re visible or not. Some folks aren’t prepared or interested in examining those imperfections. It is what it is. I don’t tell the truth as I understand it to hurt or punish anyone. I tell it because often it’s hilarious and interesting, even if it’s painful.

As for me, I’m not ashamed of my mistakes. I don’t go around blazoning them in neon, but I’m okay with the path I’ve taken. After all, it lead me here to this moment. If people I know see themselves in the characters I’ve transmuted to the page, well I don’t have any control of that. Some people are going to believe that every character I write is based on them.

As for my memoir-ish, creative non-fiction pieces, I’ll still have to wait until my mother dies so that I publish with peace of mind….and voicemail.

The Problem with Writing About People You Know