Saturday, February 22, 2014

Fiction, Or Non-Fiction? Whom Do I Love More?

I once read that a mark of an immature writer pursuing publication was experimenting in multiple genres.  The blogger maintained that a writer who hadn't yet found his or her niche was probably not ready or mature enough to be published until (s)he found what (s)he was really good at.

I disagree.

Of course, I get it from a marketing and business perspective.  You spend all this time trying to build a name for yourself, to gain a following.  You give the people what they want, and you can't just go changing it up on them.

But I actually think a willingness to experiment shows a writer's creativity and flexibility.  Maybe that's just my personal opinion, as I'm a writer who dabbles in both fiction and non-fiction.

I've recently been querying my non-fiction project, but I have two completed fiction novels that I've currently shelved, since the literary agents aren't exactly banging down my door.

In the face of rejection on my latest project, I've been thinking a lot as to what kind of writer I'd really prefer to be known as, assuming I eventually "make it" in the traditional publishing industry.

Fiction was my first love.  I've always been imagining characters and situations, way back in elementary school, when I used to stare out the window dreaming instead of listening to lessons on long division (sorry, math teachers).  I still remember writing a notebook length first novel (complete with illustrations) about a teenage protagonist named Anna who happened to meet an alien when his spaceship landed in her backyard.  I was in the fifth-grade at the time, and my best friend Kristin and I had spent hours of our lives designing and drawing characters and composing stories about them, a whole high school soap opera world of them.

I was also "published" for the very first time way back in fourth grade, when I penned "The Christmas Tree Mystery," a rhyming narrative holiday poem that our local paper, The Delaware Wave, was kind enough to print after my teacher submitted it to them.  

When I started writing "seriously" in late high school and early college, fiction felt more natural.  Though often inspired by real life events, I liked the control I had over creating my own endings, doing as I saw fit with the characters I had so easily dreamt up.

My foray into non-fiction was not nearly as organic.  Aside from an occasional memoir assignment, I never really wrote about my life (unless you count lousy teenage poetry and rambling rants in long lost diaries and journals).  And then I took Dr. Vince Puma's non-fiction course as a junior at Flagler College.  And it forever changed the way I thought of myself as a writer.  At the time, I was still writing far more fiction, but it was under his instruction that I discovered the sheer joy of capturing a real memory, coloring it with my emotions and reflections, and sharing it with both those who had been there to experience that memory with me and those who were hearing it for the very first time.  Dr. Puma, more than any other professor, encouraged me and inspired me.  "I expect to see your name in print some day," he'd scrawled in his barely legible handwriting.  I read it over and over again, this near-sacred compliment penciled messily onto the bottom of his comments on my final assignment for his course.

I am still trying to make him proud, to live up to that expectation.

But more than that, I write to please myself.  And I love both, fiction and non-fiction.  I am unable to choose between the two.  Perhaps if I ever get published in one genre, I'll decide to focus more on that one.  Maybe I'll continue to write both, one as a hobby, one as a career.  Or maybe that blogger was right.  Maybe I should focus on honing one, rather than dreamily drifting from genre to genre.

Or, maybe not.  Maybe I'll write under a pseudonym for the second genre.

Or maybe not worry about it.  After all, you can't lose sleep over an imaginary problem.  I'd have to be published in one genre before I could worry about marketing or reinventing myself in the second genre.

All that to say, I'd love to hear your opinion.

I titled this blog honestly, wanting to feel free to share my love of writing events both real and imagined.  But as I was glancing back over it, I realized I've been focused on my non-fiction, probably because that's what my latest efforts to acquire an agent have revolved around.

So because this blog has been inadvertently almost entirely composed of non-fiction, my second love to which I've been far more attentive to lately, here's a snippet from one of my book-length fiction works.  It's been shared on facebook before--I posted it to celebrate reaching the 300 page mark, the longest work I've ever stuck with--so if you've read it already, you are dismissed from my musings for the day!  But first:  What do you think?  Is it possible to publish in both genres?  Which do you enjoy reading more?  Am I stronger in one than the other?  Those of you who've not yet seen it, take a look, then join in the conversation:

I heard the grating metal scraping against the concrete floor as the barred gate of my cell slid open. I lay on the hard cot, head pounding, staring straight ahead at the dingy wall as Detective Arnold's voice sounded behind me, “Mr. McBride? Are we in a bit more civilized mood yet?”

I closed my eyes against his voice, running my hand over my face. I needed to shave. I needed to bathe. Bits of broken pebble and tiny stones came off onto my fingertips. At least I wasn't bleeding anymore. Though it felt like blood was still caked onto my face, my fingers came away dry, and not red.

“Mr. McBride?”

“Did you come to book me?” I asked hoarsely, not bothering to sit up or even roll over to face him. Some other town cop had brought me in here. I'd stopped fighting them in the fort parking lot, allowing them to load me in the police cruiser while I cried like a little bitch. The two extra officers it had taken to bring me to the ground hovered about anxiously until Detective Arnold waved them away, sending me on ahead to the station with only the red-headed cop to bring me in. He'd guessed correctly I was done resisting. The fight had all gone out of me. Nevertheless, I'd been allowed my phone call—I'd selected Tabitha, figuring she was the more reliable, with the choice being between her or Mikey—but through the entire process, the Irish guy had kept me in the handcuffs, not trusting me enough to unlock them. I guess he didn't want me to get any ideas.

I heard his footsteps pressing closer, pausing what must have been only a short distance from me. I still wouldn't give him the satisfaction of turning to look at him.

“Maura Taylor. June 15, 1984.”

I waited for some further explanation, but he left it at that. The silence continued to stretch on between us until, finally, I heard the soft shuffling of the last remaining step he was taking to close the distance between us. I felt my body tense involuntarily as I could hear him breathing above me, feel him bending down toward me. To my surprise, he inserted a key into the side of my handcuffs. A simple twist later, and I relaxed as I gingerly slid my wrists out of the cuffs.

“Who's Maura Taylor?” I reluctantly asked, pulling myself into a sitting position and sliding over on the cot.

To my surprise, Detective Arnold sank down onto the cot beside me. He'd left the cell door wide open. For a brief moment, I considered darting to my feet and scrambling out of there. Running back to the car and driving somewhere far, far away.

But it was just for a fleeting moment, and then the Detective began to talk.

“Maura Taylor. She was a year younger than Melody when I was assigned to her case. The first missing person case I ever had in which the vanished person was an adult, not a kid. She disappeared on June 15, 1984. It was also the first missing person case I was involved in that, to this day, remains unsolved.”

The big man shifted a little, reached into his pocket, removed a wallet. I sat silently as he passed me a faded picture, creased and ragged around the edges. It was of a beautiful woman... a girl who had maybe just graduated college. She had wavy golden hair, a shy smile. Dark eyes. She looked enough like Melody to have been related. A cousin, maybe, or perhaps even a sister.

I glanced up at him. “You still carry this around with you?”

He nodded. “I still see her. Everywhere I go. I wanted to solve that case so bad. I was young then, and she was my age. I couldn't understand how somebody with their whole life ahead of them could just... disappear. So I carry this picture, even though I have no idea what she'd really look like now, if she's even still alive. But I can't help it. She's stayed with me all these years, and so, I think I've caught a glance of her in the grocery store, or at an intersection. Any number of places. By the time I get my wallet out to check the picture, I realize it's just my eyes playing tricks on me. The girl I've seen looks like Maura back then, but she's too young to be her now. Or the woman I've spotted is the right age, but when I get the photo out, I see that even allowing for all the years that have passed and how much she must have changed in her age, that the woman on the street simply doesn't look like Maura Taylor.”

I sat, staring at Maura Taylor's smile. I wondered if she had a boyfriend or a brother who hung up fliers with her picture on it all over town.

“Why are you telling me this?”

“Maura was my first unsolved missing person case. She wasn't my last. Tamara Drake, nineteen years old. She disappeared on November 14, 1997. Nicole Evans, thirteen. Missing since July 4, 1999. Edward Davis. Sixty-seven. Wandered away from a senior citizens home on March 18, 2000. Emily Walsh. Just six years old. Missing since January 12, 2002.”

I shook my head. “I don't... I don't understand.”

“They all stay with me!” Detective Arnold was screaming, suddenly. He snatched Maura's photo away from me, pounded a fist against the cot for emphasis.
“Do you hear me, kid? They all stay with me. I am very aware that when I fail, I not only fail them. I fail their families. The people who love them. You don't think I get that? You don't think I know that?”

I stared silently down at my hands, clasped in my lap, watching a tear drip down over the puffy purple bruises encircling my wrists.

“I get it. I get it more than anyone else. I understand that you are mad, frustrated, furious even. But you don't get to tell me I'm not doing anything. You don't get to decide that I don't care.”

“I'm sorry,” I whispered. “I'm sorry, I didn't know.”

The detective nodded, staring straight ahead now. “We do want to do a search. We had to wait for 72 hours to pass in order to have any chance at convincing the chief that this wasn't a voluntary runaway. And then with the second storm coming, there's no way they'll spare the manpower. We can do a search when Hurricane Fred is over.”

“But then...” I stumbled. “What are the chances of finding her, then? If she's still out there... when a hurricane is coming? What are the chances of finding her... alive?” I hated the sound of the last word, struggled to even get it out. I heard it empty and echoing in the tiny cell. Was there any chance she was still alive?

Detective Arnold turned his glance my way, eyes paternal, sad, but truthful. “Matt,” he said. “It may be that this isn't necessarily a search for Melody right now... so much as it is a search for... well, a search for her remains.”

1 comment:

  1. I'm pretty sure I still have most of our grade school drawings in a box somewhere! I usually prefer to read fiction, but your non-fiction always makes me smile. You're great at both, so write what your heart wants to write.