Timothy Gager, “The Truth in Fiction and Why You Always Hurt the Ones You Love”
I want to openly apologize for anyone that I’ve ever hurt by my writing. If I’ve described you as ugly, killed you, borrowed from you, made you out to be a dick, made love to you or re-placed you in the worst setting or situation from your life, I’m sorry. I can’t say it won’t happen again, because in all likelihood it will.
Why would I go there? Why would I hurt the ones I love? The simple answer to that is that I go there because I have to, because life is boring, and when I write, anything can happen. Generally I take something from my life and exaggerate it, lie about it and extend it so that there is a good story with plenty of conflict. Sometimes it allows me to rant. Here’s something I don’t keep secret: I started to be interested in writing after my friend’s suicide. One of the first stories I ever wrote started this way:
After the suicide of his close friend, Woody dropped everything. He dropped his girlfriend, his $15,000 a year job, and dropped right off the wagon. First to go was his girlfriend, Tonia, who could not and would not just leave him alone. “Do you want to talk about it?” she would ask. “No, not yet. I’ll let you know,” he would answer. Each day went by. “If you want to talk, I’m here.” “No, no. I’ll let you know.” This went on about eight more times, until he called her on the phone. “I’m ready to talk.”
“Ok.” She waited.
“I don’t think I can see you right now.”
The non-writer may not understand this. I’ve had many a significant other that will never understand the fact that not every pretty girl found in one of my poems or stories represents her.
This story, Wine and Cheese with Alexi and Natasha I like a lot. http://www.friedchickenandcoffee.com/2009/09/14/wine-and-cheese-with-alexi-and-natasha/
It’s about my neighbors but they don’t know this at the moment. They also don’t know I can hear the sound of every thrust he makes into her and I was growing tired of it, so that was my written response. Their loud lovemaking and their country of origin is the only truth in the story and imagining him taking a swipe at me (perhaps after reading the story) was the onus for the ending. It’s the risk you take as a writer; otherwise, the narrative would be the thirty minutes my head is between two pillows seeking silence as I think “He’s really giving it to her good.” That could a story but it's not the one I wanted to write.
The truth in writing can also be liberating. My best friend’s boyfriend Chuck died about a year ago from a drug overdose, but she was pointed to in blame by the friends of the deceased who hardly knew her. Chuck’s previous girlfriend played it up at the funeral as if she were the grieving widow. (In fact, Chuck told me before he died that he couldn’t stand her). I knew the truth. I knew that my friend had fought a hard battle to clean Chuck up but his addiction was too powerful. Basically, the entire scene pissed me off; I sat down and wrote the following in one sitting. I have no guilt about it either.
poem for the ex-ex-girlfriend of the OD victim
you are a product
of this crumble, you are
a pepper-sprayed dove seeking flight, you are
cutting corners with a plastic knife, you are pumping
the oil of denial that's thicker than the truth, same as that
yellow happy face misled, tricked, trampled, you trumpeted without triumph,
with the contagion of saccharine, addictive muscle memory of sweetness,
the phony widow married to the way you reached acceptance-—a lie,
your street smarts were a violation like busting a virgin's cherry,
a boo-hooed pristine field of snow, in the meadow, reality
is the footprints, with shit in their indentations, you are
nothing that the world of vastness cannot smell
like bad karma caught in a pretty little package,
a trash bag, all tied up into this: yo hon
he's dead now but recently
told people you were
a fucking bitch.
I could go on about the truth in fiction but even the truth must adhere to a word count and conclude: Every piece of fiction or poetry I write has a percentage of truth in it and I can narrow it down to 1-99%. I’d love to pick through everything I’ve ever written, dissect it and tell you what’s what, but honestly the people loyal enough to read my work are not looking for that. They are looking for good writing, and in order for me to produce good writing, I have to reach into places that might be sensitive for me or for others. Again, to all, I’m sorry for my past digressions, but I can’t give any guarantees that I’ll stop behaving the exact same way with my writing, as long as I continue as a writer.
Timothy Gager is the author of eight books of short fiction and poetry. His latest Treating a Sick Animal: Flash and Micro Fictions (Cervena Barva Press) features over forty stories, many previously published in various literary magazines. He hosts the Dire Literary Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts every month and is the co-founder of Somerville News Writers Festival.
Timothy has had over 200 works of fiction and poetry published since 2007 and of which eight have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He’s never won anything.
Timothy is the current Fiction Editor of The Wilderness House Literary Review, the founding co-editor of The Heat City Literary Review and has edited the book, Out of the Blue Writers Unite: A Book of Poetry and Prose from the Out of the Blue Art Gallery.
A graduate of the University of Delaware, Timothy lives in Dedham, Massachusetts and is employed as a social worker.