When I visit bookstores, I want to do more than just read. I want to give a little context. Introduce some of the themes of World Enough, and explain that, no, I’m not just writing up all the dirt I couldn’t … back in the day. This is more or less what I’ve been saying. And, as at those bookstores, I’m happy to take your questions.
Why do we trust our memory? Is it because we trust ourselves? “I was there, man. I remember…” Or is it because we have invested so much else in our memories – our sense of who we were at some point, and, thus, who we became – with memory serving as the evidence? The proof that things worked out as we believed, as we want to believe, they did?
I’ve been thinking about memory, because it’s at the center of my new book World Enough. In a way it’s essential, because World Enough came about in the space between two very distinct careers I’ve had. In my first professional incarnation, roughly 30 years ago, I was a rock critic. I wrote about music and about the local Boston music scene in particular. And while I tried to educate and inform as part of my criticism, at the same time I focused on only one aspect of the scene – the music – while I pretty much ignored everything else that I saw going on. Fast forward: More recently, for the last dozen years or so I have been writing crime fiction – mysteries. Books set in made-up worlds where crimes are solved – often with the help of cats – and all is put right at the end.
But World Enough, my new mystery, kind of straddles these worlds. And the questions I have been getting have stressed to me that this exchange is not always an easy one.
To start with, nobody seems to get that although I did report on the music scene – including shows at the Rat and the Channel, Jumping Jack Flash and Jonathan Swift’s – this is fiction. So let me state for the record. No I am not writing about your band – or about any specific band that you or I saw or loved. Yes, I am sure that at some point your drummer also got too drunk and vomited and fell off his stool before the band could even start to play, just as I know there were backstage blowjobs and plentiful substances shared and sold in our favorite venues. That was the world we knew then. But no, I am not slyly digging on one band or another. This is fiction – simply fiction in a world that at one point I knew well and that, mostly, I remember fondly.
Speaking, again, of memory: World Enough actually opens twenty years after those club days. As Tara, my protagonist, maybe like some of us, goes out to hear some of the old bands. She’s hoping to recapture the old magic. The bands were so great. The scene so cohesive – so supportive, she thinks. But as she goes back to that time, she finds herself reconsidering everything she thought she remembered.
Sound familiar? Yeah, to me too.
Maybe that’s why it took me so long to write this book, to mine my first career for use in my current one. Maybe I needed distance more than I needed memory – emotional accuracy rather than exact recollections of who did what, or whom, when.
Beyond that? Well, that’s where memory slips can actually prove useful to a writer. In fact, because this is fiction, I was able to take liberties – to get at the heart of what our community meant, to me anyway, and how our tight little world enabled both our best, creative selves and also our most self destructive. Because, no, I am not writing about your band, but I am writing about our scene – at least as I remember it. And I am writing about memory – the stories we tell ourselves. Stories that helped make us who we are.