I wrote a short story about a hill-monster trying to survive in a city. The heart of the story is the fine line between wanting someone and wanting to eat someone. A lot of YA romance is from the prey’s perspective, so I wrote from the predator’s perspective. I read this story aloud for two audiences. The first audience loved it.
“I had chills.”
“It’s brilliant. It’s ready [to submit].”
The second audience hated it.
“Totally unrelatable. She’s like a vampire-bat, there’s nothing human to latch onto.”
“Oh, you suck. You are just awful. Can’t you just kill the guy already? Or better yet, they should come to an arrangement, have sex, and then she kills him by accident.”
The trouble with this story is that while the context was different, the interactions and reactions were 100% true. They happened. I wrote what I knew (like we’re supposed to). Most of my writing is fake. Fake characters and fake situations that remain self-contained in separate worlds. The fake stuff — the lies — are what most people relate to.
It’s interesting that first-person is so popular, and yet we have no interest in memoir.
I’m finding more evidence of this in daily life. I’m not Christian. I don’t celebrate Christmas. For years, the question “how was your Christmas,” seemed like a great opportunity to tell people about the Solstice — but now I know, in my heart, that there’s no room for truth in small-talk. In order to be liked, in order to be relatable, I have to give the shortest and most non-descript answer I can manage. Great, how was yours. Fine, what did you do — and it hurts my heart every time. I am lying. I am dedicating energy to lying.
I still use the bag I got at the monastery. In public, Chinese people stare at the logo, read the words, quirk a brow, and then stare at me. Or they talk to each other and point. No one talks to me about it. Chinese-Americans, and most other Americans for that matter, find the Wu-Tang Clan to be the only common ground and leave it at that. Wu-Tang got their name from a kung-fu flick about Wudang… so that’s the connection. The cool shit I did is totally irrelevant. It doesn’t matter because it’s not relatable.
When I saw Chuck Palahniuk at the Castro theater last year, he said that he tests out story ideas at parties. He’s not looking for anecdotes that shut the conversation down. He knows he’s got a winner when the person he’s talking to responds with a similar story. Oh my God, that’s just like the time I…!
Most of what I say shuts the conversation down, and it’s only getting worse.
I beta-read a YA novel starring a teenage girl. Everything was written in first-person POV, so there was no escape from her whiny emotional whiplash. It was awful. I wanted to beat the shit out of the main character. When I brought this up to the author, he said that no one else in his critique group had a problem with her voice. I guess I was wrong.
Even my mom once told me people don’t like the things you like.
So what do we do in our stories and our lives — go along to get along, or be true to your oddities?
Before you answer, which path have you already chosen?
“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”
― Albert Camus
“Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”
― Niccolò Machiavelli