Ripped From the Headlines

This month I am on a blog tour, which means several bloggers have signed on to review Diva. I’m trying not to pay too much attention—I’m sort of watching it out of one eye—because this stuff makes me crazy. You are ecstatic over the good reviews and devastated over the iffy ones, but the truth is, you wrote the best book you were capable of writing at the time, and people will read into it what they will, according to their own experiences and tastes. And just because they don’t “get it” (in your mind), that doesn’t mean their opinions aren’t valid for a certain segment of the population. So there. Which doesn’t mean I’m not totally grateful for the good reviews, and there have been a couple of truly lovely ones so far.

In conjunction with the “tour,” I was interviewed by two of the bloggers. I’ve been thinking about one question in particular this week, which was something like, “Have you ever gained inspiration from something ripped from the headlines?”

I don’t know why everyone has such an appetite for reality these days. Reality TV, true stories, memoirs and more memoirs. People used to understand that fiction was already pushing the reality envelope for many authors; they just didn’t want to admit how much they were cannibalizing their own lives for the sake of entertainment or catharsis.

I faithfully read my newspaper (on paper) every day, and often it feels like a major chore. War and more war, greed and more greed, violent crimes done by ugly people. (I save the comics for last—they are my palate cleansers.) I think we prefer reality, but only when everything turns out all right. Especially when the people are young and pretty.

Which brings me to Amanda Knox. Like everyone else around me at the restaurant where I was lunching during the verdict, I was relieved to see her go free. I don’t for a moment believe she committed that horrendous crime. But is my opinion based on anything substantial? No. She’s very pretty, she looks lost, she’s clueless … mostly it just doesn’t make sense. She and Raphaele (also very pretty) had been dating for about eight days, and it’s just too implausible to believe that they would both be monsters so bent on sexual pleasure that they would sacrifice the life of a girl they barely knew.

One article I read compared the story to a “bad novel.” Well, it’s a bad novel so far. The only problem with the material is that the Amanda Knox character is a complete unknown. Everyone’s been wondering who will get to publish her story. I’m mostly wondering how they are going to spin it and who will ghostwrite it. And whether the Amanda Knox character will become fully dimensional in a way that will satisfy a public who has already projected far too much onto her. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if she turns out to be a normal girl, egocentric, the way everyone (especially those who are pretty or exceptionally smart) is at that age. Lots of people are falsely imprisoned in our country and others, but few of them are quite so close to “us.” Most of us (the newspaper reading public) can’t relate to the poor black man who was executed in Georgia for a crime he probably didn’t commit. But we can relate to Amanda Knox. I spent the summer of my junior year in Germany, for instance. Although I have more faith in Germany’s justice system than Italy’s, I wonder what might have happened had I fallen in with the wrong crowd. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I spent my summer working in a bank, doing next to nothing. I met some nice people but had no love affairs. Mostly I spent my weekdays sitting at a desk while the employees came by and practiced their English on me and my weekends exploring various castles and museums. At night I watched American TV shows dubbed into German and studied vocabulary lists. It would have made a very dull novel indeed. I’ll take it over Amanda’s experience, however.

The other “true life story” that put me on this train of thought was Humor Abuse, the one-man show that I just saw last night at Seattle Rep. The hero is a son of the circus. His story is fun, compelling, filled with pathos and wry humor, and totally entertaining. He’s also a very handsome guy. Now, granted, if he were just purely charming and a little bit ugly (think Robin Williams), we’d probably still eat up his story. And everyone loves a good physical stunt. His adventures are definitely camera ready. So his father was a little clueless; he still had a Harry Potteresque childhood with bells and whistles and the kind of excitement most of us only get to read about at that age. He was also unbearably cute, as the slideshow demonstrated, eliciting the kind of “awwws” usually reserved for baby animals. We like reality, but we like our heroes cuddly and our endings happy. We like neat and tidy endings where the hero ends up at Vassar, goes back to the circus, writes a successful show, and then comes to terms with it all and finds himself collaborating with his parents. Sure, these parents have a few things to answer for (treating him like an adult when he was four, telling him ribald jokes he only understood later, occasionally giving him a good whack for the sake of comedy), but all in all they were not bad in the parenting department. So, although I loved the show, I’ll reserve my sympathy for those who really deserve it.

Like most people, I want my endings happy (although I’ll put up with a lot for really superb writing, including a tragic ending). Unlike many readers today, I prefer fiction based on reality rather than reality glossed up with fiction. Most true stories—at least the ones that happen to less attractive people—don’t end so happily. Maybe the pendulum will swing back in the other direction someday, once again favoring fiction over “nonfiction.”

As long as the public keeps reading at all, I’ll try not to complain too much.

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