Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Fiction is a waste of time."

This week-end, I was invited to have dim sum in Chinatown by a fashion designer. She said she would have a gathering of her friends and acquaintances working in different fields. We were supposed to go to Dim Sum Go Go in East Broadway but it was closed for renovations so we ended up going to the Golden Unicorn across the street which offered a sumptuous feast.

One of the guests during dim sum was a writer of some import. His name is Dennis Smith. As the course of the meal went on, I found out that Mr. Smith is a retired firefighter, a writer of fifteen books such as REPORT FROM ENGINE CO. 82, a business owner, one of the founders of the New York Foundation of Arts, one of the (non-official) first responders during the September 11 tragedy and, most importantly, he said that "fiction is a waste of time."

During that time, I was in the throes of politeness embedded in me from habit and culture. I smiled and said, "Yes, Dennis. I understand your opinion."
But I do, I really do. For my personal edification, I asked him how many of his books were fiction and he replied three out of fifteen were books of fiction. The ones that were NY Times best sellers were his non-fiction works, those that involved heroics and fire. After all, his entire career (or in publishing-speak, his 'platform') is based on the fact that he was a firefighter for eighteen years and everything else involving that fact. I think his opinion is a bit biased as is mine of course. Being a fiction proponent myself, I do not agree with his assesment.
Fiction can be based on fact.

Mr. Smith kept insisting that the writing of fiction is based on craft. I agree. Of course I agree. What keeps a story going? Plot, voice, characters? But his 'objective' opinion is still based on his own experiences (as are mine, of course). Doesn't that infer that his craft of fiction is not as good as his craft of non-fiction? His opinion is based on his success or lack thereof in the fiction department. His voice in fiction may be non-existent whereas his non-fiction voice is developed and rich. No question about that since the numbers say is all.

Anyway, lunch was good and though I differ in opinion with Mr. Smith, I am still glad I met him. It's good to meet a successful writer like himself even though he believes fiction is not a necessity but a frivolous activity. He even offered me help if I needed it - with craft questions, of course.

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