It’s weird being a writer. Everything you do is research. Everyone you meet could end up on a page you write. Everything that happens to you might happen to a character someday.
A perfect quip somebody whips out in an argument? A 3 a.m. wakeup from an overly amorous cat? That time you were trying to impress a certain someone on Halloween and dressed up as sexy Tigger with Spiderman underwear? Yep. All of it could end up in your work.
This week, we have a special guest on the podcast: Suzanne Morrison, who knows a thing or googleplex about using real life in writing. She writes short fiction and essays, and her memoir published by Random House, Yoga Bitch, tells the story of “what happens when a coffee-drinking, cigarette-smoking, steak-eating twenty-five-year-old atheist decides it is time to get in touch with her spiritual side.” Yeah. It’s as awesome as it sounds.
On the show, Jody and Baker talk with Suzanne about how writers use real life, what to do when fiction is too close to real events, the toll writing can take on relationships, why memoir can be just as scary to write as fiction, and lots more.
SHOW NOTES FOR FICTION SCHOOL EPISODE 8
- We begin with deep apologies for sucking at technology. Tommy was hanging out in a hotel room in Rome, wanting to be on the show with his friend Suzanne, and we just couldn’t figure it out. (Stupid Google Hangouts. [Kidding, Google! Just kidding!])
- Suzanne tells the story of her memoir, Yoga Bitch, from real life experience to one-woman show to novel to memoir.
- Suzanne woke up with the idea for the book’s structure. Lucky girl.
- She mentions how Mary Karr talks about how you can’t use fiction to solve your personal problems, and you can’t make yourself a better version of yourself, because the whole point is your own vulnerabilities.
- When fiction begins with fictional characters, we can have them flawed from the beginning, rather than debating how to present ourselves and our real life experiences.
- Memoir feels just as scary as fiction for those vulnerabilities; it’s also scary because of the other (real) people in the memoir story, and how they are going to react. “It can be paralyzing, truly.”
- What makes writing memoir hard? Baker mentions one of his favorite sayings about fiction: “The difference between fiction and real life is that fiction has to make sense.” The randomness of real life makes it hard to structure into a story (at least in Baker’s random life).
- Baker tells the funny story of a fake monster footprint escapade that had to be changed from comedy to tragedy in order to get distance on the story.
- Jody mentions a classic artist development arc, in which her first novel heavily used her real life–and the toll this took on some relationships.
- As we move ahead in our fiction writing experience, we can write less and less autobiographically
- Suzanne often uses one line as the spark for her fiction, not real life events
- To try to recreate the a real life story in fiction is hard because the work is already done and the world is already there; it’s not organic to the story.
- Suzanne discusses the story structure that came to her for her memoir as she rewrote it from novel form, playing with perspective, diary entries, and present tense.
- Does writing memoir influence writing fiction? Suzanne: fiction comes from one line, memoir comes from a need to capture a feeling or explore why a memory keeps coming back.
- We begin making a long analogy about memoir being like skinny-dipping.
- Fiction may come from a need to escape our own regular, (sometimes) boring lives and write about other people and other problems.
- Suzanne talks about having “self-fatigue,” after writing and publishing and promoting her memoir; writing fiction provides a balance and escape from writing memoir.
- She notes the difference between the story being on the page and set forever, and the experience of delivering the story in a one-woman show, when she could improvise and play to the audience a little.
- Suzanne tells a funny story about two audience members scowling; it ends with Baker saying, “Ah, farting. The universal language.”
- With writing, it’s intimate between the writer and reader, since each reader has their own personal version of the story.
- How have we each used real life in our fiction? Jody likes using real life for her setting; Tommy also heavily researched the setting for Nazareth, North Dakota.
- Research for a writer is just living your life; everything you do is research.
- Baker’s first book is clearly set in a close version of his hometown in Alabama; the character is not him, but lots of the issues the character has are inspired from what Baker struggled with while living there.
- Suzanne hasn’t ever written anything not set in Seattle or New York or other places she’s lived and absorbed the place.
- Specific places or overheard lines also inspire fiction
- Is writer’s block different when writing memoir than it is for writing fiction? WIth memoir, the difficulties with writing come from a) what angle are you going to take on it, b) what structure are you going to use, and c) can you live with yourself after writing it.
- Then, we pretty much end the show because the internet seems to be crapping out for the whole world and we figure we better get out while the getting’s good.
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