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Ghost Writers

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I thought there were some interesting issues raised in these posts about writing and the people you know.

They take the one true detail and make wild assumptions about every fictional element in the story and proceed to interrogate me exhaustively about things I don’t feel like talking about. If, for example, I give the father in a story the same occupation as my father, he assumes I’m making some commentary on his parenting when I really am not. … My parents once read a story of mine published in an anthology in the late 90s… In that story, the parents are apathetic and probably alcoholics and the mother sews. My mother sews and when she read the story she said, “But I don’t drink.” All I could tell her was, “This is not about you.”"

This reminded me of an interview I heard on Fresh Air with a writer whose parents were also writers. He said that he had once read an autobiographical book of theirs and had felt startled to see how he was a bit player in his parents' lives. He said it was a jolt to his natural narcissism to see his actual place in their universe. It made me think that this was likely true for this author's experience with the people she knows.

However, the key phrase there was also "this is not about you." Because when I read it, I was thinking of the phrase not directed from her to the person she knew, but from her about herself. In short, stories are only partly ever about the people they're about. But they are always in some way about the person writing them. This automatically brought to my mind the matter of RP fic which is almost always only loosely inspired by the people in question. A comment at the writer's post put their finger on this point:

"Where does the larger share of our responsibility lie: in art, or in life? Or, a bit less grandiose; in art or in our interpersonal relationships?"

The writer sides with "art" (or perhaps more accurately in the case of a pro writer, "income"). However the key phrase for me there was "our interpersonal relationships." Because the issue with RP fic is that there are no interpersonal relationships involved, or at least not between the characters' inspiration and the author. One could instead make the argument that the relationship exists between the writer and other writers or their readers.

The question of what nature of relationship exists also made me think of a company whose job is "based on the idea of using Twitter and Facebook to form a marketing connection between celebrities, with their legions of Twitter followers, and companies vying for the attention of those consumers. In a nutshell, pays celebrities to tweet for sponsors." Except, of course, that the celebrities don't write the tweets themselves, so in a curious way those accounts are RPF themselves.

I remember a similar discussion arising about how long some tragedy must be in the past for it to be written about and utilized for fiction, the common connection being the distress it might bring to people connected to it and the question of at what point does something become part of the commons. However, I see a difference given the particular profession people are in. Actors, for example, are not only hired but generally paid more if they are considered sexually attractive to people, and that attraction is used in both stories and marketing. One could therefore apply the argument that they've just been very successful at marketing themselves. I find it interesting that, with authors for example, there is a sharp division between those who find fanworks flattering and a mark of their success as writers, and those who find it violating. I expect celebs probably have a similar division.

Another thing I suspect would be problematic would be what professional writers write about themselves in their work, even if they stayed away completely from people they knew, and how that also could reflect on people close to them (albeit in less direct ways). Some time ago I remember reading what an issue it was in Philip Roth's marriage to Claire Bloom. Of course the ultimate problem for any writer is that there's only so much that imagination can do in a story. In the end something has to be the truth.

Fanfic is all about the audience, much less so about the subject of the story. In RP fic, the people in question may be the leaping off point but they're not the final destination, and the celebrity's own story is still very much intact.