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As a writer I've often said I'm in the business of professionally lying. Of course, we're not liars like politicians, or businessmen, but we're liars all the same. We're asked to tell tales that never happened, fictions contorted and reshaped in order to achieve an end. It's part and parcel of the writer's career, the core element. At the same time that we're inserting narrative, we're also removing, in the hope of contouring the final product to meet an end, an objective. Unfortunately, that business has unintended consequences from time to time, ones I could not have foreseen.

I recently wrote an article titled "In Search of Cocaine". In it, I recounted a fictional night drawn upon from many first hand sources, people I knew that related events to me, accounts of their habits and drug use. I used the narrative frame of a first hand experience, of having been there on the night of a search for these drugs, though even in the article itself I make explicit that I don't use them.

Which I should reemphasize here that I don't. However, in my head, using this particular narrative frame was engaging. Not only was it a way to flex my writing a bit in a way I usually don't, it was also a way to draw attention to the drugs and poverty that are a part of Houston. Frankly, I thought it was pretty damn well written, and that it got the point across.

Of course, I thought the point was that drugs can wreck some peoples lives, that it exploits the poor, and that poverty is still a huge problem in Houston. I thought that in writing the central character, my 'friend' using the drugs, I could draw attention to drug use as a medical problem rather than a crime that needs to be prosecuted. Because that's what addiction is, a medical problem that needs to be addressed in a comprehensive method of reform.

So, fine with the world and satisfied with my story, I published it to Daily Kos, happy with a chance to continue refining my writing style. I'd forgotten entirely about the whole article since it was more than a week old. I suppose that's why I found it so strange to receive an email today, from my mother, who was more than a bit flustered at the piece.

I suppose this goes back to the Law of Unintended Consequences. Although, it does bring up a number of real issues that I suppose I should have considered ahead of time. For one, as a writer, I have more responsibilities to the reading audience than I normally consider. What was for me a relaying of second hand accounts into a personal narrative, in what I thought would be an engaging essay, turned out to be taken quite personally. I really had never considered that.

In the end, I hope that most of my reading audience recognizes that I was trying to draw attention to some real problems that plague the city of Houston. To my mother, if she ever wants to give herself the heart attack of reading my material again, I hope she realizes that writers are, at times, liars. Well intentioned ones, and ones that should be more aware of how they affect the public, but at least ones meaning to convey awareness of social issues. Or at least, that's how it struck me at the time.

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Comment Preferences

  •  writers are liars of course as all good story (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Renee, RiveroftheWest, NancyWH

    tellers have to lie or embellish what really happened with what could or should have happened.  The Gunfight at the OK Corral is one such event as I watch reruns of "The Life and Times of Wyatt Earp" where Wyatt later in life got to tell the tale as he wanted it told after Virgil and Morgan (of course) Earp or Doc Holliday were no longer around to dispute the facts.  Still makes for a rip snorting morality play as shown in various movie treatments.

    I guess if writers are liars, then the best writers are those most adept at lying to themselves  

  •  Speaking as a mother (5+ / 0-)

    I think of good writing as vicarious experience, imagining about something at a emotinal and intellectual level that makes it compelling and engages  the reader.

    And speaking as a mother, I don't want my baby to know about those things, even if what he is writing is embellished second hand information. It is irrational, I know, but at times I still think of my 30 year old "baby" as the cute second grader with the huge glasses or the little stinker who hid under the table and stole the tortillas as I made them or the sensitive child who shared his cookies with his friend who had a crappy lunch.

    Rationally, I know that that he is a grown man with knowledge of many things which I would rather not think about.  But sometimes the head and heart don't connect the way my son would like them to connect.

    So ... I understand how your mother could be upset. Now send her flowers or a great big hug. LOL

    "Life without liberty is like a body without spirit. Liberty without thought is like a disturbed spirit." Kahlil Gibran, 'The Vision'

    by CorinaR on Mon Feb 04, 2013 at 12:29:16 PM PST

  •  This is so true. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Thank you for this, DAISHI.  I’ve read mostly history and other non-fiction for years, and just lately returned to fiction.  However, I seem to have become addicted to realism; now when I find writers I enjoy, I feel impelled to explore their lives through biographies/autobiographies to see who they really are (or were).  Fifty years ago I read their stories and that was it – now I want to know about their lives, their circumstances and experiences.  I find it tempting (and obviously misleading) to believe that they have first-hand knowledge of everything they write about.

    Maybe the more authentic an author sounds, the more likely we are to jump to the conclusion that s/he is writing from personal experience… I guess you can take it as a compliment!

  •  I'm just glad (0+ / 0-)

    my Mom & Dad don't have a computer.

    "The light which puts out our sight is darkness to us." Thoreau

    by NancyWH on Mon Feb 04, 2013 at 04:26:29 PM PST

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