Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fiction is the lie that tells the truth

I'm recovering from knee surgery six days ago–my third operation in 25 months. I often joke that I should just find those scientists who gave Wolverine his adamantine skeleton and get one myself! And check out what I call my Transformer crutches: much easier to use than the axillary crutches they give you in physical therapy, even if they do make people stop and stare at me when I hobble down the street.

I'm up and limping around, feeling fairly good, all things considered. But surgery takes something out of you, mentally as well as physically, so I'm finding it difficult to concentrate on my writing, teaching, or editing at the moment. As a three-time veteran, I was prepared for that this time. So I'm logging lots of hours on my Kindle, catching up on seventy—yes, seventy—books in my " find time to read someday" pile. It's heaven, but I have to work hard not to feel guilty about "goofing" off this way.

A few days before my surgery I came across this link in the Guardian to a speech that fantasy writer Neil Gaiman gave in London earlier this month. I want to write something profound in response, but I'm reduced to saying, "Oh wow oh wow oh wow." Gaiman plucked every word I might ever think to set down about this glorious craft of fiction writing and said it so much better than I ever could. So please, please–if you love books, either as a reader or a writer, do yourself a favor and read his speech. I'd quote my favorite parts, but by the time I was done, I'd have reproduced the entire thing.

What exploded in my heart most of all was when Gaiman said that fiction writers—especially those of us who write for children—have an obligation to daydream, to entertain, and most of all, to tell the truth. Gaiman didn't mean that writers should teach or moralize: far from it. He specifically lists as one of our obligations that we should avoid preaching at all costs.

So what did he mean? I'll let him explain.

,,,truth is not in what happens but what it tells us about who we are.

To me, that is another way of saying that truth in fiction isn't a simple regurgitation of facts. There is an alchemy that happens when you enter a book, a combustible reaction between word and reader that can forever change the way you see life, the world—even yourself. That I think is what Gaiman meant when he said

Fiction is the lie that tells the truth, after all.

Now if that doesn't get you to read his speech, I don't know what will!


Vijaya said...

Nancy, I forgot that your surgery was coming up so soon! I'm glad you are recovering and reading. Sometimes, you have the luxury of reading tons only when you're laid up, so do not feel an ounce of guilt. Enjoy this time. It's a gift.

I loved that speech by NG.

Nancy Butts said...

It's strange, isn't it, how something stressful like surgery can in some ways be a gift, isn't it? Thanks so much for telling me not to feel guilty!

mountain girl said...

Oh, those crutches look wild. I hope the recovery has gone well.

I have pulled out your book again in the hopes of finding help, lol. My leave time from the writing program has come to an end and I am desperately trying to hack some ideas out of my languishing writer's brain. You will be hearing from me soon, Nancy!

Nancy Butts said...

I hope I do hear from you soon, Mia. But believe me, I know how difficult it is to get back in the writing groove after time away. I'm grappling with that myself right now; in fact, I'm mulling over a new blog post on it. Just look around you in those beautiful mountains, or listen to the voices of your children, and you'll find an idea.

mountain girl said...

Yes..sometimes inspiration is so close and in my face I seem to look right past it. I guess it's a form of not seeing the forest for the trees--or the characters for the kids? :)