By Gila Green
We live in a publishing world that not only craves categories; it demands them. These pigeonholes are like gasoline for the modern manuscript, which cannot even move through cyberspace to an agent's inbox without the fuel labeling supplies.
For those who guide writers on query letters, one of our first lessons is to help authors define their works: is this nonfiction? If so, is it educational, self-help, narrative, creative? In fiction is it fantasy, sci-fi, romance?
I imagine thousands, perhaps millions, of writers pondering these empty electronic boxes, scratching their heads as they wonder if historical, young adult means ticking historical or young adult. Which one will the recipient prioritize? Or should she add that dual element category as a p.s. in the bio? And there's never a crossover category box. Plus, spiritual can be religious, right?
The starving screens demand labels and the writers sigh, thousands of them. The hollow white box must be filled like an empty stomach or the submit button regurgitates everything and the feed-me-categories game restarts.
All of these groupings and classifications have their uses, but at times they're suffocating and anti-creative. Writers can start to feel as though they work for marketing and advertising agencies, not for readers.
Enter auto-fiction. There's something delightfully freeing about this unshackled category. No longer bound to the hunt-for-facts-to-a-fault memoir label or the "world that must encompass the objective and the subjective" of the novel, as literary critique Jonathan Gibbs points out, the auto fiction writer discharges herself of both duties.
She can borrow from the novel structure as she pleases. She can retain bunches of realistic descriptions; keep her grip on a main conflict; hang on to a plot. Then she can spill her story in an indulgently subjective way, without sparing even a paragraph for anyone else's point of view. There isn't a single person in her rearview writing mirror.
She can draw a big red line through the: create likable, well-rounded characters on the novelist's sacred checklist. Oh, and endings that serve justice, out they go. No tears there. She now has the same rights to a tragic, unjustified ending as any memoirist, without the endless and often awkward family interviews and Google searches through old newspapers to double check those facts yet again.
In an ideal world, we wouldn't need these categories and writers wouldn't receive endless contradictory mixed messages that are impossible to fulfill and that frankly are far more often demanded of female than male writers. I refer particularly to those largely unwritten memorandums that tell us, on one hand, to write what we know and stick to it; to write from our deepest level of experience and then slap us with the sense that if all we did was write our understandings of events, we must lack imagination, we must be lazy, ungifted writers.
Auto-fiction allows us to embrace our sense of the subjective, yes, that should read: self- importance and to stop pretending readers aren't interested.
Your words are tremendously freeing, and although it's not possible for me to attend your class this time, I'll be revising this memoir with them in mind! Thank you.