Everything is Copy


Becky and I watched this Nora Ephron documentary the other night and it made me wistful for New York, for a certain type of romantic comedy that was popular in the 90s, and for a type of writing career that doesn’t seem to be possible anymore — one that encompasses essays and short fiction and novels as well as film.

The film was pretty good, though it doesn’t really do much at all with the title and the idea behind it. I’ve always been a big believer in the “everything is copy” style of writing. There are numerous posts in the archives here where I talk about my early career goals of being a newspaper columnists in the vein of a Dave Barry, Erma Bombeck, or Nora Ephron, and a big part of that was was because I wanted to write about my life. Blogging has filled that hole in my soul to a certain extent, but I also find myself putting much of my life into my novels as well. Sometimes it’s actual events (like having my cell phone stolen) but many times it’s emotional inspiration (like career frustrations or parenting struggles).

There’s always a danger in that style of writing of offending or embarrassing those around me, or myself, but it’s the only way I know how to write that sets me apart from my peers. Murder Boy, for example, is a silly story with no real reason to exist apart from it’s intense emotional connection to my life. When I needed character motivation for the random plot events, I dug deep into my own life and my own feelings and put them on the page. So I was happy to see this connection reflected in reviews of the book that commented specifically on the emotional depth of the characters.

As I get older, though, and my life gets more complicated, this gets harder to do. For one, the more people who are involved in my life means more chances to hurt someone with my words, but also, as my life settles out and becomes more and more boring, I find myself less and less inspired to use actual events in my work. Nobody needs another novel about a middle-aged white guy writing about being a middle-aged white guy. I still find myself digging deep into myself for inspiration, but these days it’s more about writing about the horrible things I think about happening to me rather than the horrible things that have actually happened to me.

As I finish up Trigger Switch, I’ve also been outlining and noodling over the next book I want to write. The core circumstances of the book, involving the death of a child, are wholly original and have never happened to me (thank God), but came from my absolute obsession with losing one of my kids. Any time there is a tragedy involving kids, my imagination goes wild and I find myself working through all of the stages of grief as if it had happened to my own kids. I know this isn’t healthy and realized that if I was ever going to fully work through it, I needed to write about it. We’ll see how that works out, but for now it’s been interesting.