After writing a memoir and spending a year promoting it, I’m taking the chill of autumn and getting back to the craft I’ve been working on for 20 years and that’s fiction writing. I love fiction. Some people say, “I don’t read fiction. It’s not real.” To me fiction is realer than real. It’s distilled reality. The characters are not beholden to what actually happened in a room. Their words and feelings and actions tap into the collective We. And the act of climbing into that collective We as a writer and as a reader, requires the most important character trait I know: empathy. Without empathy, how can we love? Without empathy, how can we learn? How else am I to know what it is like to be a man, or a soldier, or a quadriplegic, or a Queen four hundred years ago?
People ask me often why I broke out of fiction to be the main character in a book. Well I think that sometimes people need to know that the main character exists in the world, to know that they are not alone. And as a writer, I needed to be the main character because I needed to create that kind of objectivity for myself during a challenging time in my marriage. I needed to write subjectively as an act of pure creation and catharsis, and then I needed to hold up the mirror to myself in reading it and wearing my editor’s cap. But memoir is limited. Though it’s still crafted and architectural, while you are still out on scaffoldings building your book, you are limited to reality. Back in the realm of fiction, I am free. I can climb into the mind and heart and actions of a 19 year old farrier from Montana and see the world through his eyes. In my comings and goings, I am back in that place of watching people move and talk and learning about that collective We. Maybe a certain turn of phrase might make it into my work. Or a gesture. Or a smell. Writers mine their lives. Hopefully we do it responsibly and hopefully we do it with compassion. It begins, however, by being empathetic. To a fault sometimes, tis true.
Here is a brilliant display of empathy. There is no way that Kevin Spacey became this good at these pitch-perfect impersonations, without studying these people he’s impersonating with a sharp dedication to the collective We, and years of developing his Empathy muscle. Enjoy this stunning performance.