One of my major interests is inner worlds: the subjective experience of being human. Perhaps, then, it goes without saying that I love to write the self, and I love to read the personal accounts of others. So I’ve been thinking about the different ways we choose to do this, and in particular the various methods available for presenting it. Here I share some distinctions I’ve made along the way.
Autobiography is the most ‘objective’ method for writing the self, with the aim of presenting events as they really happened. It will usually (but not always) be in chronological order and span most of a lifetime.
Memoir is a collection of memories from a specific aspect or time period of the author’s life. It is usually presented in an entertaining way, with some distance between the narrator and the subject, some hindsight, but also some intimacy of emotional context.
An Autobiographical Novel is the semi-fictionalisation of real events. It puts more distance between the narrator and the subject, and allows the use of plot devices, imagined events or characters, and heightened drama. There is an expectation that the author will do this not in an attempt to mislead, but to make the text more attractive to readers. Like memoir, autobiographical novels will usually cover a specific aspect or time period in the author’s life.
Micah Thomas is author of the Eudaimonia series – a unique blend of paranormal with literary fiction. In the final interview of our Writers on Lockdown series, he joined me to chat about isolation, spiritual teachers, and layers of meaning.
Hi Micah, welcome to Writers on Lockdown! How are things over there in the US, are you feeling as ‘locked down’ as us?
I have been a shut in for a few years. The isolation certainly has intensified as online friends focus on keeping themselves… I don’t know. Keeping themselves together.
Do you find isolation a help or a hindrance to your creative process?
My creative stages have an isolation mode, where I’m heads down working. The creation place is very private and I don’t like eyes on me. However, my sharing motion needs witnesses and that is tough right now. I’m releasing so much art and writing and it’s really not a good time for it.
So you’ve released two novels so far in the Eudaimonia series, when can we expect the third?
The final novel and the final volume of short stories will both be available in April. I’m formatting Evidence of Changes vol 3 as we speak. The novel will be formatted next month. Then I’m practically done with this Eudaimonia world. Kinda.
For those who aren’t familiar with your work, could you talk a bit about what the Eudaimonia world is?
Michael Walters is author of The Complex, an unsettling novel about the human psyche and its relationship with strangers and virtual reality. I caught up with him to chat about isolation, Carl Jung, and the importance of subtext in creating atmosphere.
Hi Michael, welcome to Writers on Lockdown! So, how are you faring in these strange times? Do you find isolation a help or a hindrance to your writing?
I’m faring well, thank you. I’m very lucky — I have a job that I can do from home, the kids are safe, and our parents are healthy. Being at home all the time with a full-house is challenging sometimes, but some people are going through hell at the moment, so I’m not complaining.
The lockdown is definitely not isolation for me. I like being alone. Being alone is the only way I can let my mind wander. I’m an introvert, so when I have to turn on the extrovert afterburner, I do need to recover. That’s really hard at the moment.
Are you finding the opportunity to work on anything new?
I wrote a short story in January and February which I hope will get published later this year. After finishing that, I wanted to get into my next novel, then coronavirus hit. I’ve been able to flesh out some ideas — I have a map of the location in my head, some characters, a few possible scenes, a title — but I haven’t started the first draft. The momentum is building. I hope I can finish a draft by the autumn. That might be hopelessly optimistic!
I wanted to talk a little about your recent novel, The Complex, which explores the psychological effects of unfamiliar spaces, both virtual and real. Can you tell us about the premise and how you came to write on this theme?
Jonathan D Clark is author of philosophical novel Arcadia, and his short story The Video was published in our recent anthology, Vast. As part of our Writers on Lockdown series, he joined me to discuss isolation, paranoia, and the dark side of our relationship with technology.
Hi Jonathan, welcome to Writers on Lockdown!
Thanks for having me as part of this series. It’s a pleasure.
How are you surviving in these crazy times, do you find isolation is a help or a hindrance to your writing process?
I’ve always been a rather reclusive individual (going to and from my day jobs throughout the years without speaking to anyone), so besides the limitations on what there is to do around town—and having to snipe for groceries—not a whole lot has changed for me due to the lockdown. Although, it did give me the chance to tell my more extroverted friends “welcome to my domain.” And as for productivity, it did witness a spike in the first week, but it has since slowed back down to its original pace.
Are you working on anything at the moment?
For the past year I’ve been working on my next novel, along with the occasional short story here and there when I feel I need a break from the grand narrative.
Canyou tell us anything about the new novel at this stage, or is it top secret?
Unlike Arcadia, my current WIP (titled False Cathedrals) will have a more contemporary setting; taking place in 2012 in the fictional town of Midtown, Vermont—as well as a few chapters taking place in the mid-to-late 90s. At the heart of the novel is Daniel Bloom, a middle-aged psychotherapist who can’t seem to escape the haunting memory of his first wife, Karen; even after fourteen years have passed since her untimely demise at the hands of a crazed shooter, now dormant. Hoping to distract himself, Daniel puts all his focus into helping a patient find lucidity after well over a decade of uncertainty. But it doesn’t help when he hears that the shooter has started a new, violent rampage.
Logan Ryan Smith writes dark, disorientating, and highly imaginative streams of consciousness with a unique sense of humour and madness. In the third of this new series, I caught up with him to talk about isolation, the flow of writing, and the unreliable narrator.
Hi Logan, welcome to Writers on Lockdown!
Hi, C.R. Thanks for the invite to participate. Very happy to be a part of this.
How are you faring in these strange times, is isolation a help or a hindrance to your creative process?
Outside of the occasional moment of being overwhelmed emotionally by the terror and beauty of a whole planet trying to achieve something together, in unison, not only for themselves, but for their families, neighbors, and those workers out in public selflessly providing essential services for the rest of us, I guess you could say I’m doing quite well, actually. As I’m betting you’ll hear from most writers, I’m not incredibly social. I’m not antisocial, but the things writers like doing (reading and writing) are things done in isolation already, so it’s not a huge disruption to my life. And I’m in isolation with my favorite people, my family, so why would I complain? So, we’re taking this lockdown very seriously and fortunately they’re like me — not super social. I guess we were all homebodies to begin with, so we’re not dealing with the same stress as those that have a real need to be out and about with bunches of people. So it goes.
As for the creative process, I guess it has stymied it. I usually take a break after releasing a new book, but I likely would have begun a new one by now had this whole thing not happened. I am fine with (some) isolation, but I actually do a lot of my writing out of the house. That’s mostly due to not having any kind of writing studio in our house, which means the kids would be asking every five seconds what I’m doing, what my book is about, and if they can help me write it. But when I say, “Sure. Tell me how many S’s there are in ‘occasional.’ I can’t remember,” they just give me blank expressions and start hitting the keyboard, laughing madly like a couple tiny maniacs. It’s frightening. You should see it. That said, even if I get my writing studio with a door that locks (we’re going to try to convert the garage during this time of lockdown), the six-year-old is already a master lock-picker. So we’ll see how that goes.
Aside from needing space, I’m also not the type to write when my mind is completely occupied by something other than the thing I’m writing at the moment. I turn on the news every morning, hoping against hope that the death and infection rates are slowing, and as yet, it seems to only be increasing. Hard for me to think about my next book when that’s how the day starts. Then of course there’s getting used to working from home. So, sitting all day in the house on the computer for the day job makes it a little daunting. I mean, to basically “clock out” of the day job without having gone anywhere and then to simply “clock in” to the writing job is an abrupt change in gears and I’m much better working when there’s more of a transition from one thing to the next. I hate abruptly changing gears.
All THAT said, the itch to write is a lifelong affliction, and that has returned. I’m ready to get rolling. What that will likely do is inspire me to get to work converting the garage ASAP. So, long story short, this whole crisis has affected me by inspiring me to do some home renovation. Who’d a thunk it?
Gavin Jefferson is a multi-genre author, spanning time travel, fantasy, humour, and the paranormal. In the second of this new series of interviews, I caught up with him to chat about isolation, trigger warnings, categorisation, and the impact of comic books on his work.
Hi Gavin, welcome to Writers on Lockdown!
Thanks for having me, I love this idea!
So, how’s this crazy situation been for you so far – do you find isolation a help or a hindrance as a writer?
I find it okay, to be honest. Although I work in an office full of people in my day job, I tend to live there in my own world, with over-ear headphones and music. You might say that I’ve been prepping myself for this for quite some time, ha ha!
I tend to do most of my writing on my lunch breaks or late at night, so because I’ve been lucky enough to have the ability to work from home, I’m getting roughly the same amount of writing done. One thing I didn’t expect from the lockdown is how it has made me look at my work in a different light.
Really? In what way?
Well, it’s forced me to consider theme and story setups more. I’m a firm believer in trigger warnings, but I never really considered pandemics as triggering events. I know, for me at least, I don’t want to read anything relating to that right now. And I don’t think I’ll want to in the near future, either. To think I intended to reread Station Eleven this year, too.
Take The Surrogate, for instance. That’s the story of the world’s last obese man. The way I eradicated obesity in that book was to have the worldwide governments band together secretly and have them release a virus into their respective drinking water sources, altering everyone’s genetics. It felt like something only bigger people, like me, might be offended by. And, to be honest, I thought the presence of that potential trigger would be clear from the synopsis. But, the virus idea… I hadn’t even considered it. I put a tweet out prior to the lockdown telling people not to read the book, or to take care with it if they did. The last thing I want is to upset people. I mean, it’ll happen whether I want it to or not, I guess. But, I’d rather present the warnings upfront and have a clear conscience about it than not.
I jokingly said that there would be an influx of pandemic-related fiction over the next decade, but now that I think of it, there probably will be, right? This’ll be taught in schools, at the very least.
Kenny Mooney’s books are experimental, ‘unapologetically nihilistic’ prose poems that skillfully thrust the reader into new perspectives. In the first of a new series of interviews, I caught up with him to chat about isolation, writing style, philosophical influence, and the importance of ambiguity in literature.
Hi Kenny, welcome to Writers on Lockdown!
Thank you for having me!
So how are you faring in these strange times – is isolation beneficial to your creative process or a hindrance?
The isolation isn’t a problem for me. I’m an introverted, fairly anti-social person, so being told to stay indoors and not socialise is basically my life. I’m amused at how many people, mostly those I work with, have been going on about how they don’t know how they’re going to manage, and it’s been about a week. I imagine them already chewing their fingernails down. These will be the fucking idiots buying all the food in the supermarkets.
Isolation definitely benefits my creative process though. I’m not the kind of person who can write around other people, I need a totally separate space that I can control and manage. Not that I’ve been writing very much lately, but when I do, having somewhere away from other people is certainly required. I guess because this whole situation isn’t actually that much different to my normal life, for me, I don’t feel as compelled to take advantage of the lockdown and do something creative.
I think pressure to be productive can have a negative effect on output for creatives. Would you agree?
I would definitely agree, at least for me. Different people respond to different stimuli, but in my experience, pressure is not a great way to encourage creativity. And I think that can often be part of the problem for writers, and other artists. We put ourselves under so much pressure to reach some arbitrary level, be it a particular word count, or to be original or funny, experimental, or whatever. I think if people just relaxed and let the work be itself, to arrive in its own way, they’d be happier, and maybe more productive. But who knows. I’m wary of giving or listening to writing advice. Do whatever works for you.
He tries to carve out a space of his own in the landscape, but he only succeeds in stretching it. Five fingers pointing out into the air, pushing the very fabric of his surroundings into unnatural shapes, is not enough. He can enter the warped area without a problem, but every time he does, he is bounced swiftly back into reality. He lands hard on his backside for the fifteenth time that day. Perhaps the glove he is wearing isn’t configured correctly: Jamie could easily have made a mistake. He wipes the dew from his trousers and looks across at the van; the computer equipment and flashing LEDs blinking from within. Maybe just a little tweak wouldn’t do any harm?
The neon green tables and numbers separated by asterisks, dots and dashes were familiar to him from watching Jamie, although the programming was really her domain. He was responsible for designing and building the gloves themselves. Connecting the hardware up to the main system is the easy part; now comes the need for concentration. He finds the section of the table relating to environmental plasticity and rebound, makes a few mental calculations and overwrites six of the numerical entries.
Returning to the outdoors with his re-configured glove in position, he wonders where Jamie has got to. Ten minutes, they’d agreed. Of course, she deserves as much alone time as she wants, but this is all still very new. A single moment of concern washes over him; a tugging in his gut. But he pushes the thought away before it’s fully formed and stretches his arm out in front of him. The mountains begin to twist in his vision as he spreads his fingers. The grass at his feet is suddenly much further away, and the stream appears to flow upwards. This has all become a familiar sight over the last couple of hours, so he takes it as a sign that he hasn’t messed anything up too badly.
But then he sees something different. Something unprecedented. Instead of a mere change to the shape of reality, there is now a crack forming between his body and his surroundings. It’s completely black and without quality. Everything he knows – even the air – is on the other side, and he’s struggling to hold on to the breath in his lungs. He retracts the glove back to his side, but it changes nothing. The crack is growing wider.
I see them gathered behind the twisted metal fence I walk past on my way home. Black-eyed and spitting out curses. Kicking at the mesh that holds them back. Leering and screeching like mad men against a high-rise backdrop.
But I must walk along the crazy paving.
The children they still are quake beneath the weight of their shadows. They’re scared. Scared that no one wants their 2 cents. Scared that no one is coming.
“You shouldn’t be out walking on your own, little lady,” one says. “There are very bad men out there who would do very bad things to you. I’m a feminist, myself.”
I pick up my pace, but he matches it.
“Hey, didn’t you hear? I’m a feminist. That means you have to listen to me.”