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Fiction writing: a disease best avoided at all costs

Since the Tucson Weekly is, among other things, an arts and entertainment paper, it occurs to me it's appropriate to say a word or two about the most vicious art form ever spawned: fiction writing.

Not that I write fiction anymore. I got off it. Which is a lot like getting off heroin, only with none of the fun parts first. But I had to do it for the following reasons.

One, fiction writers don't have any friends. Writing is a solitary pursuit, and while engaged in it, you don't answer the phone, or if you do, you sound distant and distracted. This results in the person on the other end feeling they must have done something to alienate or anger you. Later, when you get back to this friend and ask her to read your stuff, she gets really mad, because you've--inadvertently or otherwise--hijacked one of her minor personality quirks and exaggerated it to the point of psychopathology.

Incapable of understanding the inner workings of the artistic mind, she takes exception, for example, to your having described a nose she considers "aquiline" as "beak-like." A blow up inevitably occurs.

Fiction writers do this kind of thing all the time and don't start making friends again until they start making loads of dough, and people start sucking up. Since this almost never happens, the only friends who actually hang around are the ones with first names like "Jack" and second names like "Daniels."

Two, there's divorce, which thankfully I've avoided, but only because of some kindly god and my spouse's personal history in dealing with difficult women. The trouble all starts when you ask him to read your stuff.

If you're like most people--exhibitionists, strippers and nudists excluded--the only person you let see you naked is your lover. When he sees you this way, you don't want him to notice the extra five pounds you've put on since Christmas, the pimple on your ass, the bruise on your shin, the actual altitude of your breasts. If he were to point these things out, chances are he'd get not so much laid as hit upside the head with a lamp. There's a mutual turning of a blind eye in every boudoir.

Well, when you give your spouse your prose, it's exactly like standing there in the nude and asking him to point out all your zits, cellulite, scars, moles and stretch marks. You may think your short story makes Gabriel Garcia Marquez look like Kilgore Trout, but chances are he won't see it that way. If he says, "That's wonderful, dear," you'll get all pissed off and accuse him of being patronizing. If he points out a problem, you'll get doubly pissed off, because he's not being supportive. And I'll tell you something else: While you're pretending to be engrossed in an article on Brazil's zinc industry in the latest issue of The Economist, you're actually sitting across the room from the poor schmuck, taking note of every facial expression, tic and exhalation he makes, interpreting it in your own inimitable albeit seriously confused way.

There's no way the guy can win. Not many marriages can survive repeated episodes of this kind of shit.

Third, writers' groups. Any headshrinker worth her salt will tell an aspiring artist of whatever ilk that when the Prozac stops working, joining some sort of support network is invaluable. You just can't operate in a vacuum indefinitely, she'll say. Eventually, begrudgingly you'll go, not because you think it's a good idea, but because she refuses to listen to you whine anymore without your having at least given it a try.

Well these days, when I'm at a bookstore and a pick up a novel in which the author acknowledges, in glowing and hyperbolic terms, the members of her writers' group, I put it down like it's been dusted with anthrax. The way I've got it figured, anyone who can put up with the kind of petty, backbiting, must-have-mistaken-this-for-a-12-step-meeting kind of crap has got to be a hack.

Some minor Japanese novelist once said that when he read A Hundred Years of Solitude, he put away his typewriter forever, owing to his knowing he could never write anything even close to it. I used to laugh at this story, thinking him a wimp, a quitter.

I don't imagine him any of these things now. He was probably simply a liar. He got tired, is all.

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