Monday, November 30, 2009

Free-E-Day Extra: 'FAKE' Author Commentary

As my contribution to Free-E-Day (December 1), I've released two new e-book singles.  Additionally, I thought I'd throw in a little blog bonus, a behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of one of my free-e-day stories, Fake.

Before we get to that, however, I'd encourage everyone to take a look at the Free-E-Day blog for a complete listing of all the free art, literature, and music being offered today, as well as web chats about various aspects of DIY indie culture.

Also, I'd like to take a second to send a big shout out to Dan Holloway for organizing Free-E-Day.  Dan, in addition to being a die-hard evangelist for independent art, is a tremendous writer in his own right.  His novel Songs from the Other Side of the Wall is available for free from Smashwords, or you can buy the paper-and-glue version from Lulu (a perfect Christmas gift for someone you want to introduce to independent literature).

As a final note, the commentary below assumes that you already read the story.  Otherwise, it may not make much sense.

FAKE  Author's Commentary

Fake is a story I've been trying to write in one form or another for years.  It was born from a handful of disparate ideas, fragments I collected and tried to patch together into something coherent.  After several failed attempts in a variety of different styles, genres, and formats, with this story I finally managed to arrange these elements in a way that – to me at least – feels satisfying and meaningful.

Hoaxes

Most of the elements in Fake were inspired by news stories that I stumbled across.  Obviously, the central idea tying everything together is the hoax.  A few years ago, there were a couple high profile journalistic hoaxes, specifically those of Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair.  I filed them away in the back of my head somewhere under “possibly interesting story premises” but nothing ever really came of with it.

The first thing that really got me interested in hoaxes, however – and the one that I still find the most fascinating – was the case of JT LeRoy.

For those of you who don't know, JT Leroy was an alter ego created by the author Laura Albert.  She invented an elaborate, grand guignol life story for him that included sexual abuse, drug use, and prostitution as a child.  Through a series of phone calls and correspondences, LeRoy connected with a number of prominent writers who empathized with his childhood tragedies and championed his writing, which eventually was published to considerable critical acclaim.  Even though the work was technically categorized as fiction, part of its success lay in the fact that it was believed to be largely autobiographical.   Later,  Albert's sister-in-law Savannah Knoop started posing as LeRoy for public appearances to promote the books, explaining away her feminine voice and appearance by claiming to be a pre-operative transgender.  Eventually, however, the ruse fell apart and Albert was forced to confess that she had written the work and JT LeRoy did not actually exist outside of her own mind.

I hadn't hear of JT LeRoy or read any of the books until the news about the hoax broke.  Once that happened though, I became obsessed.  It's not that I think what Albert did was ethical –  it was certainly deceptive – but I think, in a way, I understood why she did it.  I remember reading that to her, it was more than using a pen name; she had to become JT LeRoy in order to write those stories.  Particularly, the fact that she was a woman who had to “become” a man in order to write about issues like gender identity and sexuality resonated with me – I have been cross-dressing since I was thirteen.  Also, it helped that, taken on their own as pure fiction, the books are actually still pretty good – and that one of them, The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, was made into a film directed by and starring Asia Argento, with cameos by Lydia Lunch and Marilyn Manson, all three of whom are on my short list for People I Might End Up Stalking When I Finally Go Off The Deep End.

Anyways, the point is that I developed an interest in literary hoaxes, started doing a lot of research, and eventually started trying to write a story about a hoax from the point of view of its perpetrator, not to justify their actions, but to try to understand them.  Fake – or at least William's narrative – represents the final resolution of those attempts.

As a side note, while I was editing this story, I read an article about a ghostwriter who wrote “autobiographies” for celebrities, and in it he gave a really interesting description of the method he uses to find his subject's voice.  I couldn't help but draw parallels between his work and Albert's – even though they're at two opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of social acceptance.  So I decided to write that detail into my story.

Feral Children

The story about the sisters from Linz, Austria, was indeed an actual story, and it was another article I read that soon grew into an unhealthy obsession, leading me to do a lot of research into the subject of feral children – children who are somehow removed from society for a long enough period for it to affect their normal development and socialization – classically, this happened when children got lost in the wilderness (think Romulus & Remus, or Mowgli and Tarzan).  These days, however, it's more common for the child's removal from society to be deliberate (ie kidnapping) – and usually, as in the Linz case, done by a parent.

The problem with my early attempts to write a story about feral children, though, was that they all ended up too similar to Paul Auster's City of Glass.  I then went in another direction, trying to give it a stockholm syndrome-type twist; ultimately, however, I felt that idea was best left on the cutting room floor, so to speak.  Eventually, I merged the "feral child" with another character I had been developing, the supernatural musician.

As another side note, while I was finishing my first draft of Fake in its current incarnation, the news about Jaycee Dugard broke - one of many synchronicities that have cropped up for me in connection with this story.

Zoe

The supernatural musician character was always the central role in the story throughout its various iterations.  In the earliest versions, her songs were spells to manifest ghosts; people came to hear her play so they could communicate with loved ones who had passed.  And they worked – for everyone except her.  She could never reach the person that she herself had lost, the person for whom the songs were written.

For the descriptions of her music and physical appearance, I pictured an amalgamation of Sigur Ros, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, Zoe Keating, Amanda Palmer, and Lady GaGa.

Multi-Perspective Narration

The device of changing first-person narrators was something I had seen done well a couple of different places, first in one of Brett Ellis's books (I think The Informers) and most recently in the indie e-book Dead(ish) by Naomi Kramer.  I liked the way it was used, but never really considered doing it myself until.  But as I started writing this story, I realized the technique could give it an interesting structure, kinda like Citizen Kane with a touch of Ryunosuke Akutagawa's In a Grove thrown in for good measure (or Kurosawa's adaptation Rashomon, I guess if you want to stick with the film references).  Wow, that's a lot of name dropping for one paragraph.  Sorry.

Anyways, I tried to give each narrator a unique voice and style.  The idea was that William would be a more self-indulgent and prone to wordy, florid descriptions, thinking such things make him sound writer-ly.  Amy on the other hand has a more direct, edgy, staccato voice.  She says what she means bluntly, doesn't waste time searching for pretty words and isn't afraid to resort to expletives.  For Karen, I let myself slip back into my something more like my natural writing voice, figuring that a simpler, no-frills  approach would work best for her.

Other Elements

The bit about Philip K Dick's twin sister is true.

Also, I've had a long-standing fascination with Aleister Crowley.

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