Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tired of Make-believe and Ready for REAL!

Ad Hudler
Next book out: "Man of the House" (Sept. 30)

I made a decision recently that has created uneasiness in my household and among my friends: I'm moving from writing fiction to nonfiction, specifically humorous essay-writing.

At first they were like, oh, yeah, Ad, that'll be fun … good for you. And then, after they noticed me taking photos and scribbling down things they'd said and done, they began to realize the horrible truth: I would be writing about THEM!

I’m expecting party invitations to quickly disappear. Maybe people will start editing themselves more carefully when speaking around me. Will I lose my drinking buddies? Will friends stop confiding in me? Wouldn’t you?

I started wondering what nonfiction writers do to protect the dignity of those people they write about. I think I found the answer in David Sedaris' newest book, in the author's note in the beginning. He says that the people and events in the essays are "realish."

Realish. Alrighty then. I'm guessing that realish means "not all of this is true." … maybe a LOT of it isn't true. You have to wonder, really. This means, of course that the writer can tweak a few details in addition to changing the names … and people won’t be able to recognize the person being written about. I do this often in my fiction. For example, I set "Househusband" in Rochester, New York even though most of it took place in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota because I knew too many people would recognize themselves. Honestly, you'd be surprised at how many people DON’T recognize themselves in a novel. Those filters we all use to preserve our vanity and dignity are quite remarkable.

Why the move to nonfiction? Honestly, it's because I was weary of being removed from the real, visceral world. As a fiction writer you simultaneously live two realities, the one inside your head and the one outside your head, or your daily life. It's very easy to obsess and focus on that internal world … and only you know the details of this world, which makes fiction-writing a very alienating experience.

I, a former journalist, found that I was shutting myself off from the real world because I was concentrating so much on that inner world, that novel in progress. And anything that didn't have a place in my novel got filtered out.

I had stopped reading non-fiction books because I was too obsessed with learning the craft of fiction-writing: plot and pacing and character and so forth. I limited my intake of magazines and newspapers and biographies. In all, I filtered out too much life … like some pinched, eyes-closed old man who had grown sour on the world.

But I'm back. And diggin' it. And to hone my nonfiction skills I've started blogging daily on my website. It's become a sketchbook of sorts for my essays. Having a blast with it.

Man, oh, man I am all over the place in that blog: Target vs. Wal-Mart shoppers; the Vietnamese couple who climbs my trees to harvest coconuts; yogurt poop (Hey, they ARE live and active cultures in there.); large-animal yard art; North Dakota adventures. I talk about pickup trucks and my daughter's first cuss word (learned from me, unfortunately), and the brassier tree spotted in my house. I’m having fun. The blog’s title is "Ad Libbing." Stop by for a visit:


Jackie K Cooper said...

Ad, welcome to the world of non-fiction also known as using your friends for fun and profit.

Ad Hudler said...

And you still seem to have plenty of it's doable, I guess!