Sometime around Thanksgiving I had drinks with a friend who had written a novel. I was so excited when he hit me up on his visit to his hometown in Maryland/DC from Nigeria because I remembered in college we had at least 2 or 3 really nice convos in the dining hall. It was one of those things where you end up eating together because the only person you knew during that meal was your friend’s brother, but then you walk away and are like “Hmm. I think I’m smarter now” or “I feel enlightened, but I have no idea why” and then it’s over until like a year later when the whole thing happens all over again.* So when I heard from my friend Uzo Iweala , I obviously couldn’t wait to get smarter and be enlightened! I was also in writing-group withdrawal and a blog hiatus, meaning I really needed to have a fiction-writing conversation. While fascinating to discuss the writing process with someone (and by someone, I mean a doctor) who published a critically acclaimed novel and is working on the next one while simultaneously saving the world (I’m serious)…it was also hilarious. I mean I actually said “when I think about a career as a full time novelist, it just seems a little bit too solitary for me.” It’s like kind of absurd to say something like that with a straight face with someone who actually can have a successful career as a full-time novelist, you know? Nevertheless, he indulged and said he could relate because he didn’t see many people while writing his masterpieces (my word, not his). He then explained the pros/cons of the opposite experience of being on book tour (of course, another concern I have, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there ;))
My biggest fiction-writing takeaway from the convo though was about authenticity. Specifically, Uzo said that his thesis advisor Jamaica Kincaid told him (and I may be messing this up, so don’t quote me) that if you write that a farm tastes like arsenic—you better have tasted that farm! Ok, I KNOW I messed that up, but you get the point. Authenticity makes or breaks a piece of writing, in my opinion. I think it’s also what makes the process so hard. On the one hand, you want to be honest because you know the reader is going to feel and probably reject your restraint. On the other hand, nobody is trying is to put all their business out there. And by nobody, I mean me! I want to write about a girl, but it’s not going to be an autobiography, believe me! Rather, I want to write about someone whose very clearly NOT me. But how? Thankfully, this thought did come to me as I was chatting with my novelist-doctor friend, so I asked him how he’s able to capture characters who have lived completely different lives than his. He basically said interviews, which I found encouraging because I used to be a journalist! I also love when people give me simple, applicable answers/advice. Thank you. As for the inner most feelings/thoughts of these characters…I’m beginning to learn that just because you haven’t experienced how wonderful it feels to win the lottery, doesn’t mean you can’t describe happiness. Or you don’t have to have had a dog die to be able to write about grief, if that makes sense. This is what I think at this point, but I’m still figuring it out.
Anyway, my New Year’s resolution is to blog regularly again. I’m bizzzack peoples! Hasta luego!
*Side note: I basically told Uzo this entire story and his response was that he barely knew me in college, he only came to my dorm to visit his brother and sister and he only hit me up in DC because I felt so bad that I was supposed to go to his book signing but then didn’t because Politics & Prose is just way too far away. So sad.