Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Stranger than Fiction

Si Yu'us Ma'ase to Mar-Vic Cagurangan for her mention of my column "When the Moon Waxes" and NaNoWriMo in her column earlier this month in The Marianas Variety.

For those who want to know more about NaNoWriMo from a Chamorro perspective or ChaNoWriMo, please check out the Chamorro Studies Facebook page. 

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Stranger than Fiction
Mar-Vic Cagurangan
11/8/13
The Marianas Variety

THE hardest part of writing is coming up with the opening sentence.
With every new piece, you are a virgin – even if you have had this job all your adult life.

You embark on the process with nothing but a blank screen and frequent but unnecessary trips to the bathroom, hoping for the first atom of an idea to emerge. Writer’s block can be crippling.

For news writers, the challenge is to write a catchy lead with an interesting angle, coupled with the difficulty of digesting a 100-page document, a one-hour interview or a two-hour forum into a 500-word (or less) article. We are writers in a hurry, writing for readers in a hurry. We are not bound for fame and glory. We are as good as our last bylines.

For creative writers, the challenge is to come up with the best opening line that will be remembered and recited by generations of readers.

Among the best of the best opening lines of novels are:
  • “Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.” ("The Stranger," Camus);
  • "Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K, for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.” ("The Trial," Kafka);
  • “Call me Ishmael.” ("Moby Dick," Melville);
  • Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” ("Lolita," Nabokov); and
  • “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” ("A Tale of Two Cities," Dickens).
This month may be the best season to talk about literature as the nation’s writers and wannabes compete at the novel-writing marathon called NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month.

As Michael Bevacqua wrote in his Wednesday column, NaNoWriMo encourages those “who have a passion for writing ... to cast caution into the wind and blitz out the novel they have always dreamed of writing.”

Everyone has something to share. As the American author E.L. Doctorow said, “The moment you have nouns and verbs and prepositions, the moment you have subjects and objects, you have stories.”

And nothing is as good at fiction as fiction, Doctorow said. “Fiction is democratic, it reasserts the authority of the single mind to make and remake the world.”

Fiction writing, as in any other form of art, can be your best revenge on people who make your life miserable. You can turn them into whatever you picture them in your mind – a witch, a dictator, a zombie, or a cockroach.

Fiction writing is special specie. Unlike articles for regular publications that present current events as installments in a serial melodrama, fiction is a total and ultimate discourse, Doctorow said. “It excludes nothing. It will express from the depth and range of its sources truths that no sermon or experiment or news report can begin to apprehend.”

“It will tell you without shame what people do with their bodies and think with their minds. It will deal even-handedly with their microbes on their intuitions. It will know their nightmares and blinding moments of moral crises.”

I envy novelists. I don’t write fiction. Cranking up a pointless 600-word column to fill this space every week is my only playground. Newspaper columns are the distant cousin of creative writing.

But I am definitely a big fiction reader.

A couple of years ago, somebody asked me with a tinge of pity, “Why do you read mostly fiction?”

Because I write facts for a living and reading non-fiction can be imposing.

Because reading fiction gives a unique sensation; it feels like rolling pearls in your mouth.

“Fiction gives counsel. It connects the present with the past, and the visible with the invisible. It distributes the suffering. It says we must compose ourselves on out stories in order to exist. It says if we don’t do it, someone else will do it for us,” Doctorow said.

“You will experience love, if it so chooses, or starvation or drowning or dropping through space or holding a hot pistol on your hand with the police pounding on the door. This is the way it is, it will say, this is what it feels like.”

Facts are stranger than fiction.

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