- Are your characters based on real people or do they come entirely from your imagination?
This is an interesting question and one I really have to tackle and be upfront about. I will start by quoting the disclaimer at the beginning of Yet Today.
“This is a work of fiction. Consequently, any resemblance of the characters herein to the living or the dead is unintentional and random.”
But there is a larger picture that does not negate the disclaimer. Instead it opens the story up to the subconscious realms that you need to draw from in order to really reach down and grab something meaningful as a writer.
My family and lived experiences seem to form a large part of the material of the story: the type of characters, the details of their lives, their personalities and conflicts. I think of it as a scaffold, a trellis for the story to take shape and grow on. The final product is fiction, it’s a made up story with an invented narrative that in some almost magical way, in the way of storytelling, tells about a larger truth.
But my process is heavily dependent on what I know, especially when it comes to writing a contemporary story about a unique family living in unique times and how the larger world comes to bear on their relationships and the decisions they make as individuals. At times it might seem like I’m writing what some would call autobiographical fiction, but I call it semi-autobiographical because it is purposely distanced from reality in that my aim is not to mirror the obvious but to reflect on deeper questions.
The story of Yet Today has definite echoes of my real life — the main character is a high school Spanish teacher, check. He has three children, check. He spends a lot of time reflecting on the direction of his life, his relationship to his wife and children and hoping for a better world, check. But things get a lot crazier in Gillum Kaosky’s life whereas I have a relatively boring, sedate existence.
- Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns of the story? Convince us why you feel the book is a must read.
There were times in the writing process that my characters definitely took over and surprised me. I’m thinking of the children in particular. Gillum Kaosky’s older daughter lives the tension in the family and acts out in strange ways. His son ends up in jail, and the choices he makes when he gets out are unforeseen, because I had no idea that he would make them before it happened in real time as I wrote that part of the book. But that is the beauty of writing, the fact that your characters will take on a life of their own if they have something that brings them to life in your imagination.
The fact is that I write in large part as some kind of fortune telling to help me look into the future. That’s an obvious byproduct of writing my science fiction trilogy The Jonah. But even in a contemporary story such as Yet Today, I wanted to see what would become of the family, of the marriage between Gillum and Sibyl, of the children, just the way anybody in real life would like to know how things will look in one year’s or ten year’s time for their loved ones. Having said that, I’m not at all sure what will happen to me and my family, but one thing is for sure, the writing of Yet Today was a lot of fun, and I can only hope that readers will get out of it as much pleasure as I got in writing it.
- What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
This brings up the question of identity in literature which has taken on such a recent controversial air recently. Can someone from a particular background even claim to be able to tell a story from a point of view with which he, or she, or they have seemingly nothing in common? That’s the question that many seem to have such a hard time dealing with. I would argue that of course it’s possible to tell a story from another’s point of view. That’s the whole point of fiction, to open us up to the world through other eyes. Imagine if only white males could be depicted in stories by white male authors, or black females in stories of black female authors. The literary world and our culture would be greatly impoverished, in my humble opinion.
Is it easy to write from a female perspective if you are not a female? Of course not. Yet Today is about a white guy coming to terms with his privileged perspective as he gets older and his wife and daughters’ stance towards the family change in ways that reflect the larger society. But I would say that an intentional writer can lay claim to another’s perspective. We are all related to each other and consequently are hard-wired to understand and see ourselves and the world through the eyes of the people we care about. The crucial element is to care for each other.