I would like to use what little bully pulpit this blog affords me to ask my fellow writers to please, please stop engaging in the literary equivalent of the Mommy Wars, in which people who choose to write fiction and people who choose to write nonfiction defend that choice by attacking those who have made a different choice. Every writer does not have to choose one genre and one genre only to read and write (any more than every mother only works outside the home or is a stay-at-home mother, and never moves between those statuses). More importantly, though, the Genre Wars perpetuate the same facile assumptions about each genre that they are meant to dispel.
When someone says something stupid to you like, “I don’t have time for fiction; I only bother with things that are true,” or “Nonfiction must be easy to write, because you just put down what happened,” the correct response is not to bash the genre which it sounds like the person prefers, but to point out patiently (and quickly, because these folks often have short attention spans and aren’t really interested in reading anyway) that in fact all writers deal in imagination and the truth. Sometimes – and it pains me to say this, but it happens – your own fellow writers will make such claims, although I have found it is usually in an attempt to defend their own little corner of the literary realm. Don’t tell me about how great fiction is, one CNF devotee sniffed in a Facebook comment, why should I care about your imaginary friends? The response here should be the same, although given with greater urgency: whatever the genre, we all rely upon imagination and seek truths that we render through the medium of language.
Fiction writers, please bring me your imaginary friends, rendered as carefully and powerfully as you can manage. Elizabeth Bennett, Faith in a Tree, The Monster, Gregor Samsa – I have loved them all, and always welcome the chance to make more imaginary friends over whom I can laugh and cry and wonder and complain, and in the end feel changed, or at least less alone in my human messiness. Nonfiction writers, you too, please bring me your mother, your great-grandfather, the guy on the shrimp trawler, yourself on the Appalachian Trail, yourself in recovery, yourself learning how to roller skate at age 52 – because when you render these on the page for me, your reader, they become my imaginary friends too, as real and necessary and challenging for me as any fictional character, and, no, that is not an insult. It is the way of things for all of us, no matter what genre we choose to write: imagination and the truth are the twin stars to guide us, and bring writer and reader alike to whatever destination the words carry us.