You can’t make this shit up

At one point in the endless coverage of the manhunt for Marathon Bomber suspect #2, an officer noted that the car chase along Memorial Drive and into Watertown was “like something out of a movie.” Bullet slugs in the living rooms of Watertown residents? Blood on the side of an over-wintering boat in a quiet neighborhood? Grenades? Phones going dead? “Shelter in place”? Shootouts? Standoffs?

Years ago, I had a landlady who broke out in loud laughter when I said that I wrote fiction. She said that she read only nonfiction because fiction is “a bunch of nonsense.” One day, her partner told me a story of how she communes with bees.

A friend recently told me that she was chased out of the cemetery by a swarm of bees, which she thought was her dead father’s way of telling her to move beyond her grief.

In 2009, the bees vanished.

I believe all the bee stories. (I adore the second one so much that I put a version of it into a chapter of the novel I’m writing.) Actually, there isn’t a whole lot that I don’t believe.

Life imitates art imitating life imitating art. If you can think something up, then you know it has probably happened somewhere. If it has happened somewhere, it will find its way into fiction, and lots of these stories will be similar, even across cultures and ages. The collective unconscious is an astonishingly powerful thing.

Author Sheila Heti said in an interview that “increasingly, I’m less interested in writing about fictional people because it seems so tiresome to make up a fake person and put them through the paces of a fake story.” A fake story?

If you try to directly import “reality” into your fiction, you will find that you have to fake-ify it. (Assuming that you are writing a story with some semblance of plot–Heti’s third book is formless and eclectic.) If you’re writing a fake story, then you can make the plot be what it needs to enhance and affect the non-fake people. Or whatever. Shape and mold, shape and mold–the thing becomes the thing and answers only to the thing that it is.

Well-meaning people often ask writers this question: How much of your book is true? I hope I never get asked that question.

The line separating truth from fiction was always blurry. Lately, the revelation of faked memoirs seems to have exposed this blurriness.

I’m going to go talk to some bees. They obviously know everything.



1 Comment

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One response to “You can’t make this shit up

  1. This is a fascinating way to view the fiction and non-fiction histories. I like both since they feed from each other most of the time. Good points. Lets see what the bees say.

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