Bru Discovers Cit 1 in Citadel
Join me and a crowd of Red Wheelbarrow Writers at Village Books in Bellingham for a reading from Citadel
Theo Dzielak owner, poet, friend of the printed word is now carrying Citadel at Couth Buzzard Books, 8310, Greenwood Avenue North, Seattle.
I am now reviewing for the New York Journal of Books. Upcoming is a review of Don’t Hide The Madness a Burroughs/Ginsberg conversation which is slated to publish in October 2018.
Eleanor Parker Sapia, author of A Decent Woman, reviewed Citadel here. Very happy to have this succinct and insightful review. The final words: “The character Trisha says it best: when you finish this novel, you won’t be the same person who started it. And that’s a good thing. Let the discussions begin.”
Citadel is available at Couth Buzzard Books, 8310 Greenwood Avenue, Seattle. Thanks to Theo Dzielak owner, poet, friend of the printed word.
Cassandra Flatt Disney worked up an outré apocalyptic-looking-sounding video trailer for Citadel. Posted on Youtube.
The feature on Citadel is now in eYs magazine. This is a new, Sydney, Australia print/emag publication under the guidance of the talented and dynamic Jasmina Siderovski.
Publication of Citadel, the Novel
Citadel my new novel, is now in print.
Novelist Nicole Disney wrote this—
Citadel is a much needed, unforgiving and unapologetic evisceration of the idea of female inferiority that we have primitively accepted today and throughout history. Remick never shies away from the atrocious acts of violence against women. Citadel is an honest, sometimes savage look at the relationship between men and women, and what the world could be like if women were in control. (Author of Hers to Protect; Dissonance in A Minor)
Evolutionary biologist Irven DeVore tells us that “Males are a breeding experiment run by females.”
What if, in fact, women ran everything? Citadel is a metafictional, apocalyptic story braided into a contemporary post-lesbian novel built on the science of genetics. In Citadel , we see a world where women don’t need men at all.
Each day, the news gives us images and stories of efforts to push back all the progress women have made in the last century. Citadel will be a feature article in the July issue of an Australian publication—eYs (http://www.eysmag.com). Publisher Jasmina Siderovski asked me what I hoped to achieve for the readers with Citadel. My answer:
It’s my hope that, by fearlessly bringing the substance of this novel to the forefront, without ascribing any blame, I have written a morality tale. I hope that Citadel will support women as they continue to resist and say “No More Killing. No More Victims.” Those words drive Citadel and I hope they become a mantra for modern women living in the Niche**.
** From Citadel, the Niche:
“Western women are in the Niche, Rose. We’re pretty little madonnas living in a pretty little Niche. We have a tiny window of freedom. It’s barely two hundred years wide and we think it will go on forever. You’re educated. You have a career. You have clients. You’re independent. You control your money. You own property. You vote. You’re free. Two hundred years ago, you couldn’t have any of that. And now they’re taking it away from you one piece at a time.”
Jac Seery, designer of the cover for Citadel, wrote this after reading the novel:
I feel enlightened–as a woman–ironic to have misdeeds against my gender pointed out by a man.
I feel changed—the way a great journey changes you.
I feel empowered by the reading.
I feel cheated by society.
I feel hungry for all of Citadel, the novel inside the novel.
Ask your bookstore to get you a copy of Citadel from Ingram (available in July). Or you can order directly from Amazon now.
- Coming out in August, should be available at B&N in July
- Writing autobiographical fiction
- Some challenges
“We’re in a theory-saturated era—call it trickle down post-modernism—where the borders of fact and fiction are widely debated,” says DeWitt Henry, founder and former editor of Ploughshares. “And what began as artistic discomfort with literary form has served further to complicate the skepticism in readers.”
In contrast, he looks back to his writing several decades earlier: “In the late 1960s, I believed in pure fiction, and as a writer set out to imagine and portray the inner life of working-class characters in my father’s candy factory. I also kept a writers notebook on the side, where I vented and mulled about my escapades and follies as a lonely graduate student. In an entire chapter of my novel—‘Ballgame’ (1971)—I transferred my first-person notebook description of attending a Redsox baseball game into the third person of my old maid character, Anna Maye Potts. What came alive in the fiction was a kind of agoraphobic panic, causing my former mentor Richard Yates to praise: ‘Don’t change a word.’”
In 1972 Henry spoke to Richard Yates, his creative writing professor at the Iowa Writers Workshop, about autobiographical fiction. “Yates responded first about Revolutionary Road, ‘There’s plenty of myself in that book—every character in the book was partially based on myself, or on some aspect of myself, or on people I knew or composites of people I knew, but each of them was very carefully put through a kind of fictional prism, so that in the finished book, I like to think the reader can’t really find the author anywhere.’ Then about his ‘autobiographical blowout,’ the story ‘Builders’: ‘I think that story did work, because it was formed. It was objectified. Somehow, and maybe it was just luck, I managed to avoid both of the two terrible traps that lie in the path of autobiographical fiction—self-pity and self-aggrandizement. . . . Anybody can scribble out a confession or a memoir or a diary or a chronicle of personal experience, but how many writers can form that kind of material?’”
If the line between fact and fiction is being blurred today, the distinction was an issue for Henry as well as for Yates. And for many writers today, if not all, it’s still an issue–at least if reliance on autobiographical fact leads to bad fiction. Let’s say it does. How do you solve the problem? You want to write good fiction, but the facts of your life keep imposing! While a writer of Yates’s stature can transform personal experience, avoiding mere “confession,” this can sometimes pose a real problem for early-stage writers.
Robin Hemley, author of Turning Life into Fiction and nearly a dozen books of fiction, notes two problems fiction writers often face in drawing on personal experience. “One of the downsides is that life is messy and it’s difficult sometimes to decide what to include and what to reject in a story that is largely autobiographical.” The second one, he says, is getting attached to “the way things happened” and not wanting to make any changes. But, for Hemley, a writer of fiction must “always be flexible.” And so he recommends asking yourself “What if this happened?” You should see where that takes you, then go with it if the “transformation ultimately benefits the story.” Yet there are more things you can do to “wean” yourself from the autobiographical facts, including changing a major aspect of the story, the main character’s gender, and the point of view. “Do anything to give yourself some distance,” says Hemley.
Jack Remick, author of Valley Boy and several other works of fiction, notes the same two problems. As to trying to fit it all in, the problem here, according to Remick, is that you’re glued to your own life. If you’re thinking like a fiction writer, “you see right away that the life experience has to be whittled down to size and in whittling, you have to come to grips with the structure of story. Knowing how to do that is one of the keys. You start with life experience, but along the way you must infuse the work with the techniques of fiction.”
As to sticking to your own story, or “what really happened,” says Remick, to write fiction you must get beyond self, or ego, which means leaving “history and self behind.” But let’s say you just can’t separate yourself from the autobiographical facts. You feel absolutely compelled to be faithful to what actually happened. If you’re that committed to the facts, write a personal memoir, Remick advises. “Get it out of your blood and onto the page, then put it in a drawer and get down to the business of the novelist—exaggeration, fantasy, lying.”
Lying. For some writers “lying” about their experiences, and those of their family and friends, may seem wrong somehow. What right does one have to manipulate the “truth” of lived experience, some of it perhaps serious, some of it perhaps very sad, just to tell a story? Initially, this kind of prevarication troubled Melissa Pritchard, award-winning author of four short story collections and four novels. “As a child, I enjoyed lying until I was taught that lying was a serious misdeed. It took a great effort, as a beginning writer, to overcome my fear of lying, of inventing and imagining.” But she was able to move on at some point: “So far as I am concerned, there is no fixed line between fact and fiction; it is up to you, the author or ‘authority,’ to smudge and blur boundaries.” Much of her fiction draws from personal experience. “I use it as malleable, raw material, and the ‘trick’ I learned through trial and error, through practice, was that I could choose what facts and memories strengthened the story and discard others. The power of story lies in the selection and often in the blurring of fact with fiction.”
There is another issue here, though, one many writers surely have encountered–at least as a possibility. “The downside,” says Pritchard, “is the potential to hurt persons you may be writing too closely about. One of my earliest published stories was a portrait of my parents that was unflattering, even a bit cruel. I was a new writer and felt justified in writing what I did. When the story appeared in my first collection, my mother called, crying and hurt. I had thought, that by writing about this experience, I was righting a perceived wrong, pointing a righteous finger of justice at people who were defenseless. My mother and father. I felt so terrible, I vowed never to use the power of the word, the power of story to hurt anyone again, and I do not think I have. Certainly not intentionally.”
Use of personal experience can potentially hurt others, but, says Pritchard, it can also lead to healing. “If you look for and write to the empathic moment at the core of a story, you are unlikely to hurt and more likely to heal,” she says. And so, used in this way, personal experience can be therapeutic, not only for the writer but for all concerned.
But outside of this possible therapeutic value of autobiographical writing, there are other plusses. One is authenticity, says Hemley. “It’s hard to beat the sense of authenticity you get from using details from your life. Writing characters and scenes whole cloth from your imagination can sometimes produce clichés, stereotypes, and hackneyed images.” But, he says, specific details from your own life, even when coupled with invented ones, can have an air of reality, of actual lived experience. So, Hemley encourages writers to draw from their own life. “Why not? Writers have been drawing from real life for centuries. Some writers have even essentially written memoirs and called them novels, such as Marguerite Duras’ The Lover. I don’t really care if you call it fiction or nonfiction in that case. It’s a matter of whether the writer has immersed me in her world or not.” In his own fiction, Hemley has on many occasions drawn from his own life, but he’s also “invented stories whole cloth.” He states, “I have no trouble in my own work differentiating between fact and fiction.”
Barry Kitterman, author of The Baker’s Boy, also sees great value in drawing on personal experience. “If, as some thoughtful person once said, there are only a handful of stories to tell, and our job as a writer is to find a new and fresh way to tell one of those stories, then there’s no better source of stories than our individual experiences, our lives.” As a creative writing professor, he’s worked closely with students who want to make use of personal experience. Doing so is a much better choice, says Kitterman, than some other choices students would like to make. “In working with students, time and again, I’ve had them say they want to write about axe murderers or serial killers (which I’m happy to say few of them know anything about) because their own lives are boring, devoid of stories.” Not true, says Kitterman. It depends on how this experience is handled: “Once the apprentice writer learns how to examine her life, and this often takes a few years of trial and error story-telling, she finds the story that she alone is equipped to tell. That’s rich material.”
Still another benefit of autobiography, says Tara Deal, author of the prize-winning novella That Night Alive, “might be an aesthetic one.” She tends to use “bits of autobiography” in her fiction because, she says, “they provide a different texture, the way different kinds of paper work together in a collage.” For her, it’s a matter of contrast. “Because my stories are often experimental, rather than realistic re-creations of events, my autobiographical passages are usually about sensory or emotional experiences or about my personal philosophy.” She found this method successful in In That Night Alive, which,” according to Deal, “is a mash-up of a futuristic fiction with memoir.” Her method worked like this: “I included short chapters about living in New York and thinking and writing in order to provide a real-world point of reference. Both halves work together to tell a story, but the feeling of reading each part is different, and I think that allows the reader the chance for a more comprehensive experience.”
Writing “autofiction”–a term coined by Serge Doubrovsky in 1977 for his novel Fils— has been a real plus for Dina Nayeri, author of Refuge. This is the kind of fiction, says Nayeri, “in which the narrator and the author are conflated. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the writer is actually writing autobiographically, but that the writer is teasing the reader with conventions of autobiography and fictionalization.” For her, it has to do with writing what you really know–what you’ve experienced firsthand, what you’ve fully processed in the different domains of your being. “For me writing autofiction is the ideal form of expression of what I consider to be the truth. The reason is that this allows me to draw on the things that I know the most–my deepest, I suppose, emotions and thoughts, and the stories that I can tell better than anyone.” And she isn’t “encumbered by facts” because, she says, life tends to be “a little bit messier than you’d like it to be,” not reaching a “point of completion.” But fiction must achieve some point of completion, and so when Nayeri uses autobiographical materials, she’s focused instead on the needs of fiction, which means seeking an overall arc. Writing autofiction allows her “to draw from the best of both worlds”–that is, personal experience as well as the resources of fiction. Writers who feel compelled to stick to the facts of their own life, Nayeri says, apparently don’t trust their “own imagination or their grasp of the situation and they’re not really using the tools of fiction they’ve given themselves permission to use.” What they need is “a little bit more confidence” in their fictional abilities. Or, putting it another way, states Nayeri, “they should listen to whatever voice told them to write fiction to begin with.”
But here’s something you perhaps haven’t considered. For Dennis Must, author of several novels and story collections, in a very real sense, everything we write is autobiographical. “We are stories narrating stories,” he says. “As writers we draw from a reservoir of recall influenced by how we have processed our experience in time. It’s the Roshomon persuasion that suggests that when a writer is ‘drawing from life,’ she is remembering, say, an incident that in itself is colored by her perception.” Must calls it “the lens of our knowing.” For him, writers need to put aside the question of fact versus fiction, use what they can, and focus on creativity, on seeking the universal “from a reservoir of self.”
Consider Kafka, he suggests: “From the pedestrian and suffocating everyday existence Franz Kafka encountered in Prague, in an endeavor to give meaning to that experience, he refashioned a surreal, illogical and often nightmarish world.” And Hemingway: “Hemingway chose Nick Adams as his alter ego in penning 24 realist pieces of fiction that represent a close analogue of the author’s life.” And Fitzgerald: “‘Writers aren’t exactly people,’ Scott Fitzgerald wrote. ‘They are a whole lot of people trying to be one person.’”
There’s a lesson in these examples, says Must: “We are the sum of our encounters in life and within those we are often born anew, i.e., in looking back we acknowledge different selves that make up who we are. At the very least in writing we re-create such experience to memorialize it for ourselves.” We can be highly imaginative with the materials of our experience, as with Kafka, or create a “close analogue,” as with Hemingway, but whatever we do we must depend on our creative resources instead of a mere recounting of our experience. For Must, the best memorializing will be the product of that creativity: “‘I hide behind the door, so that when Reality comes in, it won’t see me,’ writes Fernando Pessoa the Portuguese poet. Employ the facts of one’s experience as a child might churn dandelions into butter. Allow them to shed their temporal origins.”
Dewitt Henry particularly appreciates Tim O’Brien’s distinction, in The Things They Carried between “happening truth” and “story truth.” To tell a true war story (or any story), you need to avoid the conventional lies of heroism and valor and instead expose the obscenity and absurdity of combat. But also, as Henry notes, quoting O’Brien: “‘Absolute occurrence is irrelevant. A thing may happen and be a total lie, another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.’”
Some tips from the pros:
DeWitt Henry: “Do the details add to the thrust of the story?–beware details for details’ sake, and for the lure of remembering. Will the details matter to readers who don’t know the writer’s life? Will inclusion of the details betray, insult or slander any private party including the writer, her or himself?”
Jack Remick: “Don’t be intimidated if you stretch beyond ‘what really happened.’
Seek out the significant detail that defines character, intensifies the situation, and locates the depth of the object.”
Dennis Must: “When referencing autobiographical details in your narrative, remember you are a fiction writer and not a reporter. One’s imagination must come into play.”
Melissa Pritchard: “Examine your motives and intentions for writing autobiographically based fiction–write always from a place of love, not revenge. Fiction addresses emotional truths, not factual ones. Besides, facts and histories are largely selective memories.”
Dina Nayeri: “Put the audience out of your mind. If the story is improved by changing details, do it. But don’t do it to avoid conflict, because you can’t control other people’s emotions. Be kind, but don’t compromise the story. Or, if that sounds impossible, write something else.”
Robin Hemley: “Write first and ask questions later. If you’re afraid that so-and-so will recognize himself in the story, won’t ever speak to you again, or might sue you, you’ll never write the story.”
Tara Deal: “Start small. Add some minor incidents from your life—an overheard conversation on the subway, an encounter on a trip—to a larger manuscript. See if that provides some interesting contrast that you can work with.”
Barry Kitterman: “For me, it’s a dance. On the one hand, I’m going to try to write about what I know, what I’ve lived, what I remember or misremember. On the other hand, I’m going to allow myself to make things up. If a story is rooted in the authentic, and if I’m careful and lucky, what I make up will also be surprising and true.”