I had the pleasure of interviewing Jamie Ford recently, author of Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, and Songs of Willow Frost (look for the interview next month). His writing journey was in many was a familiar one. He had tried to write a “bleak literary novel” because he believed that was what he was supposed to write. This did not go so well. He explained that in deciding to write Hotel he had to admit to himself that he really wanted to write not-bleak historical novels. I drove home from our interviewing thinking about how many writers I know who’ve told a similar story. Theo Pauline Nestor found her voice when she finally accepted she didn’t want to write fiction, but wanted to write about her own life, what we call memoir. Kevin O’Brien had to accept that he wanted to write scary stories. Garth Stein had to accept that he wanted to write a book narrated by a dog. On and on.
Which reminded me of my conversation with Armistead Maupin, who came out of the closet publicly in the 1970s, thirty years before Ellen DeGeneres had her own daytime talk show. It occurred to me then that we all have to come out in one way or another. We all have to admit that we are who are, which is always going to be different in some ways either large or small from the family we were born into, or the genre we were taught to write.
It seems like it would be simpler if we all lived our entire lives out of our respective closets, but I believe something would be lost if we were deprived of that choice between who we are and who we thought we were supposed to be. I never quite feel myself so clearly as the moment I shed some old story I didn’t even realize I was telling. There I am, lighter now I suppose but really just the correct weight, me minus nothing except what I never wanted.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.