tcastleb: (Man)
( Aug. 5th, 2006 09:12 pm)
I've been reading a book of essays by Dorothy Allison (of Bastard out of Carolina fame) called "Skin: Talking About Sex, Class and Literature." Damn, it's good. There are several writing-related essays, and there are a lot of good passages that got me thinking today.

From her essay, "Survival is the Least of my Desires:" "I believe the secret in writing is that fiction never eceeds the reach of the writer's courage. The best fiction comes from the place where the terror hides, the edge of our worst stuff. I believe, absolutely, that if you do not break out in that sweat of fear when you write, then you have not gone far enough."

That's something I believe too, and something I needed to hear today. Orossy X scares me. Not just because it's graphic, because it is, but because all the stuff that's in there had to come from somewhere. Stuff of nightmares? Strange childhood fancies? Maybe. And I cringe now every time I remember that I actually sent the thing to the WorldCon workshop.

This is also something I talked about with another writer at Westercon, who chuckled when I said Mercedes Lackey's books were "happy-go-lucky" and fluffy. The author said it was because she didn't dig deep enough to get to the really scary stuff. Marion Zimmer Bradley did. And the author said that Octavia Butler wrote from her nightmares, and that's why her books have such an impact.

It's really interesting to start thinking about books from a psychological standpoint. Where do the stories come from? What in the author's experience contributed to them? There is the old adage "write what you know," but it goes way beyond "I'm from Denver and I'm a doctor, let me write about being a doctor in Denver." That's all surface stuff. I'm not saying that tormented artists are the only ones that make great works of art, but that they have that extra well of emotion and experience to draw on. Neither should they be the only ones making art; we need to laugh and enjoy the little things in life too.

I got to ride in the backseat of a PT Cruiser with Dorothy and Nalo when I went up to San Francisco. I hadn't read any of Dorothy's stuff then, and didn't really get a chance to tell her anything other than hi. Didn't get to give her my card and tell her I was going to get myself a Tiptree someday (she's on the Tiptree committee.) Maybe it would have been worse if I had read these first, because then I would have been burning with things to say and no chance to say them. And now, looking back, I can say she was one of the coolest people, and probably the best and most dramatic reader I've had the pleasure to meet.

Dorothy comes across as being fairly humble in these essays, but I can see why the LGBT community holds her in such awe. She says, "I have lived my life in pursuit of the remade world."

All I can say is yes. There is such power in writing. The critical fantasy book I read for SHU this term mentioned that fantasy (and SF) were merely ways of telling the same truths about life that literary authors are so adamant about, but we see it through a different lens. Tell your truths by whichever way you can and never feel ashamed of the method. Just because we write "popular fiction" doesn't mean that our books can't be real or have an emotional impact.

Be brave. Push the limits of your courage. Write, even if it scares the hell out of you. Better if it does.
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