Today, I’d like to tell the story of why I gave up writing fiction.
As I have said in a few recent interviews, storytelling has been the fabric of my life ever since I can remember. As a child, I became so engrossed in my imaginary playground that I would forget everything else. The absolute worst punishment was for a grown-up to take away my books. (Which they did. Often. Unforgivable.)
As soon as I learned how to put pencil or crayon or pen to paper and write the stories that I carried in my head, I was lost forever. Sucked down that great gaping black hole of no return. I wrote stories on paper napkins. The margins of the church bulletin. (Sacrilege! I learned to hide them very quickly lest I invoke divine or parental wrath. Frankly, I was more afraid of the here-and-now than eternal retribution.) Paper placemats and menus at restaurants. Programs at recitals, concerts, and plays. The palm of my hand.
Once I was old enough to understand the implications of, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” my answer rarely changed.
“A writer,” I said.
Then when the practical realities of daily life convinced me that I could never make a living while scribbling the stories I had to hide from my family, I changed my mind. I would go into another career that would pay the bills, but I would still write.
When I got old enough to study the art of crafting fiction in a serious way, I threw myself into the classes as fervently as I throw myself into anything I have ever loved.
The last story that I wrote–and never finished–was of a woman in her early 30s, helping to raise her four-year-old niece whose mother had recently died of cancer.
“What kind of cancer would kill the fastest and have the least possibility of remission?” I asked. I checked out stacks of oncology books from the library and scoured medical journals while debating how to kill this young mother. I settled on stage-four pancreatic cancer, swift to make its appearance and equally swift to leave behind a widower, half-orphan, and a sisterless aunt.
Whether it was as good of a story as I thought it was, I have no idea. I threw it away shortly after, when I gave up writing fiction.
You see, it was in the middle of research that my father went in for an emergency biopsy.
Once we got the diagnosis, I showed my family the miniature cancer research library I had accumulated.
“See,” I said. “This book says this, and this book says that, and here we see that this treatment is effective because…”
No one questioned why I had brought with me more cancer books than clothes.
Once the initial shock wore off and I was faced with the reality of a possibly dying parent, I was seized by a mystical, superstitious, unexplainable but unshakable belief, all the more potent because it took me the better part of a decade to realize that I had it.
I wasn’t silly enough to think I had caused my father’s cancer by writing a story about cancer. Yet, wasn’t there something uncomfortably eerie, perhaps karmic? I had so happily, eagerly laid out this fictional woman’s fate and built up her life story only to kill her off in order to write the “real” story. I knew all of the lingo of cancer but none of the life.
Chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, and all of the assorted paraphernalia associated with cancer became part of my everyday vocabulary.
I never wrote fiction again. I tried a few times over the next years to go back and to write a story, but I never could do it. I worked on memoir writing, academic writing, activist writing, spoken word and performance pieces, but never fiction.
Until a fragile but beautiful girl named Kat came into my life. I thought she was a fluke. I wrote her story only to put it away again, and I wrote it only because it was a secret perverted fantasy that I would never show to anyone.
Today, Kat has become the flagship, the main oeuvre, of the tiny fledgling enterprise known as Ana’s Kinky Books. She was quickly followed by Mira, Carene and Leila, Vennie, and many others.
When I was a child, I knew that I would grow up to become a writer.
I just didn’t know what kind.
(The Way Home, the first volume of Kat and Natalie’s stories, will be published March 6th by Lazy Day. In the meantime, you can find The Vengeance of Mrs. Claus and Desire in Any Language at Blushing Books or Amazon.)