Thursday, February 17, 2011
Going Home (despite that Thomas Wolfe was right)
Apologies, naturally, to The Josh Joplin Group for so blatantly ripping off a song lyric for the title. (Great band though! Give them a visit here: http://www.joshjoplin.com/)
So back in the day, author Thomas Wolfe (not to be confused with Tom Wolfe...both talented but VERY different people) wrote the book LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL. It was a thinly veiled--albeit gorgeously written--autobiography of Wolfe's life growing up in a small(ish) town. When it came to press, fame and wide readership, people closely associated with Wolfe began to recognize themselves or their situations in ANGEL's "fictionalized" setting and characters.
Almost in response, Wolfe wrote what would posthumously be published as YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN; a story about a writer who writes a story (that's chiasmussed up) about his hometown and is subsequently ostracized for it.
Wolfe, you so meta.
As writers, a lot of times we can't help BUT draw from our personal experiences to create our fictional worlds and characters, right? What do you do when a friend/family member/co-worker/significant other sees themselves---for better AND for worse---in your stories?
Thomas Wolfe was right, you can't go home again. But we also can't divorce ourselves completely from the world if we want to write truthfully about it; that's why we benefit so much from random experiences, odd encounters, strange jobs and weird relatives. Just try and tell me you haven't done something just because you thought "this will be great story fodder someday."
So, dear people: Is your sweeping epic fantasy really just your old high school set in Middle Earth? Has anyone noticed? Have you ever changed something in your writing to steer it further away from the truth...or closer? Or have you ever just said "forget it" and written a sequel that further exploits your hometown?
Be careful: I'm totally writing down all you say to be used in a future book.
(Photos courtesy of Univ. of N.C. Library at Chapel Hill)