Sunday, August 08, 2010

Mythologize your friends -- or just make them up

It's really a very simple strategy. You have a small group of friends and you declare them all to be geniuses and you laud all their work and ascribe to them sweet and stormy qualities worthy of the Greek gods. What you're selling is not just your writing but your personal legends.

That's Edmund White, writing in the Aug. 19, 2010 New York Review of Books, reviewing photographs of the Beat writers by Allen Ginsburg, talking about how Jack Kerouac turned his real-life friends into not just fictional characters but mythical ones.

And when I read that, I immediately thought: Yes, that's just what Bolaño did in The Savage Detectives, which for that reason among others has been compared to On the Road and the rest of Kerouac's work. And in a previous generation Henry Miller did something similar (though most of the weird characters and hangers-on in The Rosy Crucifixion didn't turn out to be famous writers or artists -- not including Anaïs Nin and her crowd who showed up later).

You may think to yourself, right, my friends are just as nutty and proto-famous as that collection of characters in New York in the 1920s/New York in the 1940s/Mexico City in the 1970s. The poet-barista you have a crush on -- surely she's the equal of June Miller. That pretty flash fiction author who reads at every open mike is just like Gregory Corso. The hairy, almost inarticulate author of chapbook verse who hangs out in the park every Sunday is another Ulises Lima.

Or not. Maybe you're singularly unimpressed with the talent around you. Maybe you just realized they do a lot more talking about their art than working on it. Maybe they're boring. Very well. Make up characters -- that's creative writing.

No comments: