Tuesday, April 10, 2007


“Which of these characters is you?” That’s what a critic or a reader—anyone who is likely not a writer him or herself—might ask the author of a piece of fiction. On occasion, one character is the writer’s voice. But my guess is that most fiction writers who are not writing veiled autobiography would answer like me: they all are.

I think about Hannah Tinti, finishing up her writing at Blue Mountain, up in the New York Adirondacks. The last night of the last day. Putting down her pen. In a zone. The story or book has reached a conclusion. An ending, if not the final end. In some ways, it’s as intended. In others, the characters have surprised her, taken on lives of their own. Said things she hadn’t expected. Refused to mumble other lines she’d turned over in her mind like jewels.

Cajoling characters isn’t as impossible as herding cats. But it’s not a military operation where everyone follows orders. Characters who come to life, who become palpable, can have wills, if not absolutely free. Like defiant children. Like all God’s children. Straying from that perfectly planned garden: its weedless beds, its mulched mounds, its cultivated rows. They climb trees, pick and hurl fruit, break down fences. They snap off the tulip tops and threaten to whip their friends with rose stems. They leave, they have sex, they fall in love, they commit atrocities, they die.

So, like a goddess—for what are writers, creators, but the gods of the page, the worlds they create. Omnipotent! At least at the start, and ceding power as their worlds gain traction and rotate. So, like a goddess, Hannah Tinti puts down her pen, be it a TUL or a Univision or a Bic. She finds her way along a path through the old growth forest. She crosses a stream--beckoned ahead by Eminem--and reaches a gathering where all the other supposed recluse writers, hermited painters and shy poets will dance. Lo, they do not rest on the final night of creation. They have been static all week, only exercising their minds. They turn up the music. They kick off their shoes. After creating worlds, they dance and they dance and they dance.

So, which of these people is holy, is God-like? The priest? The monk? The taxi driver? The prostitute? Any honest deity would have to welcome us all, without demanding an admission ticket. No repentance, no sacrifice, no good deeds, no tithing. As surely as Huck’s father belongs to Twain or Raskolnikov to Fyodor, we belong to whatever force set this wet ball in motion with a word and a kick, as surely as we writers string together, out of our own unnamed urges and curiosity, words of good and evil, words of holy and unholy intent.