This is the second of four entries on "being" a writer. The first can be found here.
I had a job interview recently in San Diego and while I was there I got a chance to have dinner with my sister Jeanette. She’s in the middle of reading my first novel length manuscript and spent a good ten minutes before the food came trying to confirm which real people from our past were basis for my characters.
Tommy is totally Rob Machado.
Well, Craig is you, isn’t he?
No, I see myself more as Bibs. (I should note that most people who’ve read the book think Craig is my alter, so they may be right. However, it really throws them when I say I identify more with Bibs, a deacon’s daughter turned prostitute and right-hand woman of the local pimp/drug dealer Marley Bob).
Well, what about BT?
She got him right, sort of. By the end of the conversation, I realized I really like this game. As a writer, I freely admit I crib the lives of the people around me. If you know me, I’m probably going to use a part of you. Writers don’t invent, we compile and alter and then graft what we’ve taken onto the pieces of ourselves we put into every person we “create.” We mix and match like the socks we don’t think people will ever see us wearing.
But the conversation of “who” my characters are is really interesting to me because I generally don’t know who I’ve composited until it gets pointed out to me. I think that may be one of the reasons I choose to do something as frustrating and low-paying as write fiction without wizards or vampires. I like the way something so personal only makes sense to me when other people explain its facets as they see them.
I even like when people get my stories “wrong” because explaining my intentions has a similar effect. I guess I could never be Emily Dickinson. I can’t write for myself and my four walls. I need feedback earlier than a posthumous release would allow.
Michael Dean Clark is an author of fiction and nonfiction and is in the final stages of earning a Ph.D. in Creative Writing at the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin. His work is set primarily in his hometown of San Diego and has been known to include pimps in diapers, heroin-addicted pastors who suffer from OCD, and possibly the chupacabra.