Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Pants on Fire

Author n. 1. The writer of a book 2. A person who creates something

I am an author. I write books and I create. I'm a bullshit artist, a liar. Don't believe a word I say.

I have yet to meet a writer who doesn't bring their talent for storytelling into their daily lives. We exaggerate, spin yarns, have a flexible definition of what is true and false. When we get pulled over, we tell the cops elaborate stories about our sister who's in labor and we're driving fast to try to make it there on time. At parties, we make intelligent comments on recent news headlines or political legislation even if we haven't watched the news or listened to the radio in weeks. At conferences, we claim to have read every book that every author has ever written, and are able to speak intelligently on the various characters and plot lines. It comes naturally, like breathing.

My love for fiction writing stems from laziness, that I'll admit. While I'd rather write freelance articles than punch a clock everyday, I still get annoyed when I have to research or go on interviews. I get irritated when I need something more than my mind to get the job done. When I started writing, I loved the fact that all I needed was a pen and paper, or a computer, and my brain to produce. But I soon learned that even writing fiction requires research, requires truth and accuracy.

We've all heard it time and time again. Research. Get your facts right. Readers will crucify you if you make too many mistakes. I admit, when I read novels about Chicago and they get street names and neighborhoods wrong, the author immediately loses my trust. But then again, we're just telling a story. It's fiction. Why all the focus on facts?

For years I relied on the George Castanza theory: It's not a lie if you truly believe it. If you tell a story with enough authority no one will question its accuracy. Most authors (that I know of) have never shot a man, never spent a day in prison, never hijacked a plane or caught a terrorist. But their knack for storytelling, their belief in what they write, gives off a sense of authority and we don't question it. We believe that this is what killing someone feels like, that this is what it's like in prison, that their story illustrates the way to successfully hijack a plane. I can research the prison system, read serial killer websites, check out books from the library on the effects of poison, but I will never actually experience it.

Ultimately we are authors, creators, not the bearers of truth. The research we do for our novels adds authority to our stories, to our voices, forcing readers to believe our bullshit. Make too many mistakes and you lose credibility, but show enough facts and readers will follow you anywhere. At parties, my girlfriend may roll her eyes as I criticize the recent Oprah pick knowing that I hadn't read it, but the rest of my audience will listen, will believe me, because I state my opinion with authority. It's not a lie, if you truly believe it.

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