Monday, September 14, 2015

My Secret Love Affair

Friends, I have a confession. I am having a love affair,.... with fiction.

I know, I know – I came into the MFA program as a nonfiction writer. Memoir is the house where I live, where I feel comfortable enough to put me feet up on the coffee table. On the other hand, fiction has always been that funky next door neighbor’s house where I wanna hang out but I’m not cool enough to get invited.

“I don’t know how to lie,” I’d say when people asked me why I wrote nonfiction. I was certain that I wasn’t creative enough to make stuff up.

Last semester, I took a class that focused on Zora Neale Hurston’s work. We all know her most popular book, Their Eyes Were Watching God, but in this class, I was introduced to a wide range of her writing. We each got the chance to choose a book that wasn’t being taught in the class and present it to our peers. I chose Dust Tracks on a Road, Hurston’s autobiography. Reading this book, I was amazed by the striking similarities between the characters in Hurston’s novels and the real people that were a part of her life. In Jonah’s Gourd Vine, she didn’t even bother to change the name of the main character, John, who was a thinly-veiled portrait of her own father.

Maybe memoir and fiction weren't as different as I thought!

I have had this epiphany before, when I read Isabelle Allende’s memoir, Paula. Being familiar with her fiction, I was floored by the way her stories mirrored the trajectory of her own life. But this time, something clicked for me. It’s as if I realized that a doorway had been open to me all along, but I had never dared to step through it.

Excited about the possibilities of autobiographical fiction, my professor let me try my hand at it for my final project. While writing, I found myself slipping into the first person “I” over and over again; my nonfiction hat was still firmly fixed on my head. At one point, I remember discussing the piece with my professor. She made a suggestion to change something about one of the characters, giving them an illness or a different job. I looked at her in surprise. “But, but – ”,  I started to say and she stopped me. “It’s okay if it didn’t really happen that way, Carmella,” she said.

This semester, I am taking a fiction workshop and I have officially delved into the genre. I’m making shit up left and right – and it feels great!

Well, it felt great at first. And then I had a freak out. I’m not a fiction writer, I’m a memoirist! What will I do! I need to choose one for my thesis and quick! I found myself talking in “should” – I should do my thesis in creative nonfiction because of x,y, and z. I decided to call up a previous graduate from my program, Melissa Carroll. She was a nonfiction student who dabbled in poetry and fiction with much success (she also published this lovely anthology about yoga!). She said for her it wasn’t a hard choice to stay with nonfiction, but she could hear in my voice where my heart lay: fiction.

“It doesn’t mean that all you can ever write is fiction forever and ever. After graduate school, you’re just a creative writer, plain and simple.” This made me feel better. I don't want to be pigeon-holed into one genre! “But listen," she continued. “You’re going to be living-eating-sleeping with this thesis for the next two years. So you better have a massive crush on it.”

My fiction affair turns out to be a good thing! I’m still getting used to the idea of defecting to the fiction camp, but hopefully, my writing career will be long and full of forays into all the genres! Most of the modern writers I love have their pens in all the pots…. But more on genre-crossing another time!

In other news, I am having a second [not-so-secret] secret love affair. 
With a kitten named Rumi.

"You didn't need your desk, did you?"
"I like books, too"