The great divide between fact and fiction is for young men, who still
have to deal with life. For the old, the
distinction is academic. What does it matter what is true and what is
false, what real and what
invented? In our mind’s eye all of it, the half-lies and the truths,
are one continuum of personal history.
Fact and Fiction
If you haven’t already noticed, all my books are about a lonely person
looking for some way to connect with other people.
In a way, that is the opposite of the American Dream: to get so rich
you can rise above the rabble, all those people on the freeway or,
worse, the bus. No, the dream is a big house, off alone somewhere. A
penthouse, like Howard Hughes. Or a mountaintop castle, like William
Randolph Hearst. Some lovely isolated nest where you can invite only
the rabble you like. An environment you can control, free from
pain. Where you rule.
Whether it’s a ranch in Montana or basement apartment with ten
thousand DVDs and high-speed Internet access, it never fails. We get
there, and we’re alone.
And we’re lonely.
After we’re miserable enough-like the narrator in his Fight Club
condo, or the narrator isolated by her own beautiful face in Invisible
Monsters-we destroy our lovely nest and force ourselves back into the
larger world. In so many ways, that’s also how you write a novel. You
plan and research. You spend time alone, building this lovely world
where you control, control, control everything. You let the telephone
ring. The emails pile up. You stay in your story world until you
Then you come back to be with other people.
If your story world sells well enough, you get to go on book tour. Do
interviews. Really be with people. A lot of people. People, until
you’re sick of people.
Until you crave the idea of escaping, getting away to a . . .
To another lovely story world.
And so it goes. Alone. Together. Alone. Together.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you know this cycle. Reading a
book is not a group activity. Not like going to a movie or a concert.
This is the lonely end of the spectrum.
It’s hard to call any of my novels “fiction.”
Most of the reason I write is because once a week it brought me
together with other people. This was in a workshop taught by a
published writer-Tom Spanbauer-around his kitchen table on Thursday
nights. At the time, most of my friendships were based on proximity:
neighbors or coworkers. Those people you know only because, well,
you’re stuck sitting next to them every day.
The problem with proximity friends is, they move away. They quit or get fired.
It wasn’t until a writing workshop that I discovered the idea of
friendships based on a shared passion.
Writing. Or theater. Or music.
Some shared vision. A mutual quest that would keep you together with
other people who valued this vague, intangible skill you valued. These
are friendships that outlast jobs and evictions.
This steady, regular Thursday-night gabfest was the only incentive to
keep me writing during the years when writing didn’t pay a dime. Tom
and Suzy and Monica and Steven and Bill and Cory and Rick. We fought
and praised each other. And it was enough.
My pet theory about Fight Club’s success is that the story presented a
structure for people to be together. People want to see new ways for
connecting. Look at books like How to Make an American Quilt and The
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood and The Joy Luck Club. These
are all books that present a structure-making a quilt or playing
mah-jongg that allows people to be together and share their stories.
books are short stories bound together by a shared activity.
Of course, they’re all women’s stories. We don’t see a lot of new
models for male social interaction.
There’s sports. Barn raisings. That’s about it.
And now there’s fight clubs. For better or worse..
For Choke, I sat with Alzheimer’s patients as a volunteer. My role was
just to ask them about the old photographs each patient kept in a box
in their closet, to try and spur their memory. It was a job the
nursing staff didn’t have time to do. And, again, it was about telling
stories. One subplot of Choke came together as, day by day, each
patient would look at the same photo, but tell a different story about
it. One day, the beautiful bare-breasted woman would be their wife.
The next day, she was some woman they met in Mexico while serving in
the navy. The next day, the woman was an old friend from work.
What struck me is . . . they had to create a story to explain who she
was. Even if they’d forgotten, they’d never admit it. A faulty
well-told story was always better than admitting they didn’t recognize
…Telephone sex lines, illness support groups, twelve-step groups,
all these places are schools for learning how to tell a story
Not just to look for ideas, but how to perform.
We live our lives according to stories. About being Irish or being
black. About working hard or shooting heroin. Being male or female.
And we spend our lives looking for
evidence-facts and proof-that support our story. As a writer, you just
recognize that part of human nature. Each time you create a character,
you look at the world as that character, looking for the details that
make that reality the one true reality.
Like a lawyer arguing a case in a courtroom, you become an advocate
who wants the reader to accept the truth of your character’s
You want to give the reader a break from their own life.
From their own life story.
This is how I create a character. I tend to give each character an
education and a skill set that limits how they see the world. A house
cleaner sees the world as an endless series of stains to remove. A
fashion model sees the world as a series of rivals for public
A failed medical student sees nothing but the moles and twitches that
might be the early signs of a terminal illness.
During this same period when I started
writing, friends and I started a weekly tradition we called “Game
Night.” Every Sunday evening we’d meet to play party games, like
charades. Some nights we’d never start the game. All we needed was the
excuse, and sometimes a structure, to be together. If I was stuck in
my writing, looking for a new way to develop a theme, I’d do what I’d
later call “crowd seeding.” I’d throw out a topic of conversation,
maybe tell a quick funny story and prompt people to tell their own
Writing Survivor, I’d bring up the topic of cleaning hints,
and people would provide them for hours. For Choke, it was coded
security announcements. For Diary, I told stories about what I’d
found, or left,
sealed inside the walls of houses I’d worked on. Hearing my handful of
stories, my friends told theirs. And their guests told their stories.
And within one evening, I had enough for a book.
In this way, even the lonely act of writing becomes an excuse to be
around people. In turn, the people fuel the storytelling.
Alone. Together. Fact. Fiction. It’s a cycle.
Comedy. Tragedy. Light. Dark. They define each other.
It works, but only if you don’t get stuck too long in any one place.
-Chuck Palanhuick,Stranger than Fiction
P.S : The Story Does Not End Here.
Before writing for money, he was writing for passion, and for social
intercourse which I daresay is what we do, for this activity (that
consumes a lot of time )is all about connecting to people who share a
But how long will this go on?
Should we vest in other spheres of interest just in case tomorrow none
of this remains?
Create a safety net?
Not be too attached , for nothing is permanent?
Ten years from now, will we be still here,writing about our crappy
jobs,mangled relationships,ennui and discontentment?
Or our tiny little joys, fleeting moments of happiness, triumphs and
glory…real and imagined?
How about five years from now?
Writing is always about convincing people that ‘this is what we are’.
The most frightening aspect of writing is the truth is it’s
consequences (again real and imagined, and unforeseen and unexpected)
I have promised myself Radical Honesty many times over, and then
backed down, fearing it would hurt the people I loved, respected and
admired.I’ve created a saftey net of anonymity and ambiguity to
protect them,but it feels cowardly.
But more often than not, I have abandoned Radical Honesty in the sake
of self interest.
Could what I write be held against me, or hurt me, or show me in bad light?
These vexing thoughts bog my mind.
I’m no angel, but I’m not the lucifer incarnate either.
My life maybe punctuated with petty acts of selfishness and random
acts of kindness but it is largely dominated by pointless humdrum
mundanity.(Hey, So is yours. Admit it)
I’m not a rockstar-superstar-superhero that wants to save the world…
What I present to you is only what I Want you to see.
Objectivity, in my humble subjective opinion , does not exist.
As long as there is a subject or and observer, objectivity will exist
only as a theory, to act as a counterpoint, somewhat like what death
is to life.
Exactly like what death is to life.
The perfect counterpoint that Bach would relish upon.
But we have stories to tell.
And willing eyes and ears ready to be lent.
And I will keep telling my stories until there is nothing left to say.
Or no one left to listen.
And then what ?
That’s an entirely different story my friend.
But the story does not end here.
p.p.s : While reading Stranger than Fiction,I found what else Brad
Pitt and I have in common (apart from greek god looks,6% body fat and
kids from cambodia).
We both lick our lips.
Licking lips is my version of a nervous tic.I do it when I’m
stressed out(or so they say).
He does it (allegedly) to make his lips plump and pleasing.
(Try as he may,He’s never gonna beat Angelina in the lips department)
p.p.p.s : The ‘kids from cambodia’ part is a joke.
Until and unless anyone slaps me with a paternity suit (and
wins), I have officially not fathered any child.
So is the part about 6% body fat.A joke.A big bad joke.Hahaha.
My body fat percentage is closer to 8 %.
p.p.p.s :Quantum physics and Buddhism both agree: you cannot describe
a universe without adding yourself into it. It was once
thought that reality was like a machine, very mechanical in nature and
could be broken down mathematically. Now, we know this isn’t
true. Any description of the universe is a description the person uses
to describe the universe. So, consciousness plays a big role, contrary
to popular belief, in that we can actually look objectively at things.
It used to be thought that we can sit behind a piece of
glass and look at the world without affecting it. That is not true. It
is more true that we create the world as we look. Consciousness is
reality and reality couldn’t have done it without you! Objectivity is
a myth. Every brain is built with billions of cells that have the goal
of focusing only on the familiar and what fits in the grooves of the
beliefs we hold. How is objectivity possible? It isn’t, I don’t care
if you have 900 diplomas; our descriptions of reality are based on
what our brains are capable of saying, not on the actual world around