The Jason Fisk Salt Creek Anthology blog tour has now arrived here.
Today I'm hosting the latest stop on the blog tour of Jason Fisk, for his story cycle Salt Creek Anthology. I first met Jason last year and have enjoyed his fiction and writerly camaraderie ever since. (Yesterday's tour stop was at Curbside Splendor; tomorrow's stop is with Claire Stokes). Here is an exclusive essay which Jason wrote specifically for this visit.
by Jason Fisk
Historically, fiction authors’ relationship with fiction and reality has been tenuous, to say the very least. The first author that comes to my mind is James Frey and his A Million Little Pieces debacle. Last year, I watched him on one of Oprah’s final shows as he explained his writing process, and explained how the whole lie came to be. I’m not saying that I bought his story (I honestly can’t even remember the complete explanation), but I did feel sorry for him. Frey couldn’t find a publisher that was interested in his book as fiction, but when he switched its genre, and called it a memoir, it sold.
There he sat on one of Oprah’s final shows with studio lights pounding heat on his head, defending his writing to the world. Oprah walked the TV audience through her complex reaction to finding out that the book was not a true memoir; that she had been lied to. I say complex with a bit of contempt; really, she was just plain pissed. He had to parcel the truth from fiction. Oprah leaned forward and asked him about the truthfulness of a particularly gruesomely descriptive section of the book where he had to suffer through a root canal without medication. “That wasn’t true,” he admitted. Oprah looked horrified. Frey explained that he had to go so far as to hire legal representation to deal with all of the lawsuits from people who had found “life changing inspiration” in his story, and then were so crushed emotionally that it negatively impacted their lives.
I’ll be honest with you, while there are fictional elements to Salt Creek Anthology; much of it is based on real life situations that actually occurred in the neighborhood I currently live in. I used my neighbors as inspiration, a diving board if you will, to delve into the deep, dark side of my imagination. I saw nothing wrong with this; however, as I was going through the editing process with Jason Pettus, I was reading Charles Bukowski’s Post Office: A Novel, and I noticed a disclaimer at the beginning: “This is presented as a work of fiction, and dedicated to nobody.” I began to experience a little bit of panic.
I forgot to mention that I had also decided to have a barbeque/book release for Salt Creek Anthology at my house. It only made sense to me; a book about a neighborhood, in the neighborhood that inspired it! The closer the date grew, the more I began to freak out. What if one of these neighbors came over to see what was going on? What if they wanted to buy a book? Surely they would recognize themselves, and then I would have to live here until I could sell my house, which I bought in 2006, and am upside-down on. So, I asked Pettus about maybe adding a disclaimer, and about maybe changing the venue for the book release. There currently is no disclaimer at the beginning of the book, but the venue for the book release was changed.
The whole situation made me think about drawing that line between fiction and reality. What is mine and belongs to me, to be included in my writing, and what events or personality traits belong solely to those around me? Is there a cut off point? Maybe I should’ve made an effort to disguise these characters a little better, but then again, is that being true to myself as a writer?
In a podcast discussing The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz said (and I’m paraphrasing here), that none of his family members were able to recognize themselves in that novel. He seemed proud of that fact; like the characters in that novel had come alive; fully inhabiting the shells he had created for them. Maybe that is the next step in my development as a writer.
There is an upside to the way I wrote Salt Creek Anthology; it has a gossipy type quality to it. I was a bit surprised when I went to talk to a book club in Minnesota, and they wanted to know what was real, and what was fiction. I was more than happy to oblige, which left many a mouth agape.