Tag Archives: nonfiction

Crimes against a Tow Truck Driver

american salvage nonfiction_edited-2

All about being all about American Salvage

Bonnie Jo wrote this script and provided the pictures of the junkyard. She also wrote the following text:

Why Write Fiction?

Most of the stories in AS were all inspired by real life, but I ventured far from actual characters and events.

Sometimes we fictionalize a story in order to make more sense out of it

As Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.

There are some stories that can be told ONLY in fiction. In “The Inventor, 1972,” I write a guy trying to rescue a girl he’s hit with his car, and while she’s lying there in the road, he has a fleeting thought of molesting her. No man who hoped to survive the night could dare admit to such a thought.

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How and Where I Enter

american salvage template my class comic_edited-1

According to my insider sources, all the 1 percenters read standing up whilst wearing tiaras.

There are a lot of ways of looking at any piece of fiction. After rewriting and illustrating 30 of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s short stories and telling her story about writing American Salvage, it seemed like I could/should write my story (apology?) about making these comics. A little piece of it anyway, which was much harder to tell than I thought it would be. It took all week to finalize the text; my first draft would have filled the entire page with words and never even got past panel 4. I guess I’ll have to write another comic about growing up in the North Shore of Chicago when you’re just not like the other humanoids, because John Hughes never got too deep into that story.

I think I mentioned the details about panel 2 in a previous blog post, although I can’t seem to find it, but Ferris Bueller, Michael Jordan, &c: true story. Panel 3 depicts “Hassle Castle,” which is what we called the admin building at Antioch College. The building, we were always told, was designed by the same guy who designed the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, DC. The side I drew was originally built as the front door of the school, at which time it faced a railroad station and only had 2 buildings behind it. Later, the train line was shut down and the school expanded behind the Castle and now this is the back of the Castle, facing 1000 acres of protected wilderness (nice backyard!) and the old back of the Castle is now considered its front.

Panel 3 has a little backstory. I’m not sure I ever ate Stove Top Stuffing in my life; if I did, it certainly wasn’t at my mother’s house. We didn’t use boxed matzah ball mix either, but Antioch College is in a tiny town in southwestern Ohio, so I couldn’t necessarily be particular about ingredients while I was at school. Anyway, I was cooking it in the minuscule shared kitchenette in Birch Hall. At Antioch, I met a number of lovely and academically talented people who referred to themselves with some degree of pride as “white trash,” and one of these people came in to use the kitchen at the same time. She saw the box and asked me what the heck it was. I explained matzah balls and then added, “I’m cooking from my culture,” and she indicated her box of Stove Top Stuffing and said, “I’m cooking from my culture.” So that happened.

Even as a starving artist, I’ll always be an outsider to American Salvage, but I hope I got into it pretty well.

 

A Shonda for the Vays Menschen

I've seen some stuff, you know?

I’ve seen some stuff, you know?

It’s all true, anyway. An African cab driver really did ask me if I was raped, and a bitter, critical, English professor really did tell me that there was no way that could ever happen when I tried to tell the story in an undergraduate fiction writing workshop. I suppose that’s a big difference between fiction and non-fiction. Readers just won’t accept certain types of events in fiction: you can’t write too many tragedies into a story, or too many coincidences, even though strings of tragedies and coincidences of course happen in real life.

We’re used to reading clean dialog, too, and heaven knows people don’t really speak the way their words appear in books. People say “um” and “ah” and “like,” and they stutters and repeat themselves in a way that would be utterly annoying to read. Fiction isn’t like life, after all. Fiction wraps up. There are metaphors and meanings. Life is messy and crises don’t always happen for a reason, and people don’t always learn from them.

A “shonda for the goyim” is a Yiddish sentiment, which expresses that a Jewish person has done something shameful in the sight of non-Jews, which will then reflect badly on all Jews, because anti-Semitism. I’ve since been told that black people would say, “a scandal for white people,” or something to that effect. I had mixed feelings about having an entire panel depend on a phrase in a foreign language, but that’s really what was going on in my head, too, and I think it reflects an important parallel, the kind of point upon which fiction depends, but which life often fails to deliver.

When I was looking up how to say “white people” in Yiddish for the title (I hope vays menschen is correct; I known “menschen” is “people” and if “vays” is pronounced like the German word “weiss”  then it makes sense) I came across a couple articles asking if the Yiddish word “schvartze” was considered racist. Schvartze is the word that some elderly Jews used to refer to black people, and let me tell you, it’s racist as hell. At least it was when my late grandmother said it, usually in the context of, “Lock the doors, there’s schvartze everywhere.” And that’s what I was taught about black people as a child.

I could pretend otherwise, but it’s the truth, and that’s what fiction and nonfiction have to have in common.

Every Person’s Life Is Worth a Story

You're not the only one. No one's *ever* the only one.

You’re not the only one. No one’s *ever* the only one.

Even though my first passion was always fiction, and my training is entirely in fiction, my professional success has almost always been in nonfiction. I don’t know if I’m substantially better at nonfiction than fiction, but people seem much more willing to pay me to tell the truth than to make things up. Since I started workshopping with the Owl and the Rabbit, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about creative nonfiction, specifically, how memoirs work. People want to tell their stories,and they seem to want me to help them do it.

So: that’s it. Whatever is the worst, the most horrible thing that you feel sort of uncomfortable discussing with even your closest friends, the thing that you would never want the world to know, that’s the stuff you have to mine up from the depths of your brain and polish into a princess-cut gem if you want to write a biography that works.

Why?

People ask that question sometimes, too, and the answer is because you lived through it, and if you did, someone else did too, and your story will validate them, or else someone else is wondering if they can live through it, and your story will give them hope, or else someone else can’t possibly imagine what you’ve been through, and your story will enlighten them. Surviving difficult, confusing, and/or embarrassing circumstances often provides you with the wisdom of experience, which you may then feel compelled to share for the edification of others. This is why we have literature.

All the stories in this comic are true. The one in panel 2 is, of course, the famous “No Wire Hangars” scene from Mommy Dearest, but the others are all details that other people have told me about their own lives, or their parents’ lives, with maybe a couple of my own stories mixed in. I didn’t draw any of the people the way they actually look, though, because while some of these are things that people might not want connected with their identities. (Except for the dog; that’s really what the dog that saved a woman’s life looks like, because come on, that dog is clearly awesome.) I did write earlier in the week that I was planning “one of those brutal personal comics about the most painful things that have ever happened to me” but I couldn’t settle on which brutal, personal episode of my life to wrench up from the darkness, so I chose an assortment of other people’s problems.

I had also planned for this one to have the most awesome artwork yet. I had it all storyboarded out and did the lettering in the early afternoon, but then I forgot about Parent’s Night at the Boy’s school, after which The Man talked me into started the director’s cut of Yentl at 9 pm, so I didn’t get back to work until after 11:30, so I just jammed through drawing all those people. Next week I’ll get more brutal.