a family story of mine that I once told him: a great-uncle, Tony Moran, was a semi-famous mobster who ran a gambling machine empire in Reading, Pennsylvania during the thirties and forties, and was eventually knocked off in a bar by a rival. It's a good story, full of colorful characters and funny twists and turns. And my colleague said, "So when are you gonna write about this?"
Believe me, I've thought about it. Why wouldn't I? Nothing would get me an interview with Terri Gross quicker than a novel about my family's shady past in organized crime. But the fact is, I'm never going to do it.
Why not? Rhian supplied the answer for me the other night: writing, for me, is about leaving it all behind. My home town, that is (not Reading, but nearby Phillipsburg, New Jersey), and all its lowlifes, wiseguys, and weirdos. Don't get me wrong, I love visiting home, and hearing my family tell stories about growing up in the area. But back when I was in my late teens, all I wanted to do was get away from all that and do my own thing. Indeed, all my early short stories were about the self-actualization of quirky young people. I've moved on, thank God, but still can't conceive of writing the kind of stories I love hearing from my family--those serve a different purpose. Fiction, for me, is self-invention--the "wooing of distant parts of myself," as an Alice Munro character once put it.
People often talk about, or try to talk about, where their writing comes from. But I wonder--what is your writing trying to escape?
Photo from here.