Friday, November 20, 2009

It's All a Fiction

A week ago as I introduced the story I read at my booksigning at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, there were several things I meant to say but didn't. Things that simply left my head the instant I stepped to the microphone. Hmm... by now I should have learned to make notes.

One of those things was that I love the blurry boundary between fact and fiction. I chose to read at CPW because in my story "Signs" I set an important scene there and had conjured up two fictional bodies of photographic work to fill the gallery walls. It was a real place, but filled with imaginary art and imaginary people, like a parallel universe -- almost ours but just a bit different. As I read, it was as if apparitions from the story floated half-visible in the room with us.

In another story in my collection, "A Confession of Love and Emptiness," the narrator (a total fiction) faces the legacy of being related to (the real person) Peter Roget, of Thesaurus fame. And he watches as his father's demolition company (entirely imaginary) tears down a neighborhood to make way for Lincoln Center in New York City (truth) -- the very block that was the (actual) childhood home of Thelonious Monk. He goes on to say:

Ten years later, Alice and I sat in the Metropolitan Opera in Lincoln Center, watching LaBoheme, Rodolfo singing to Mimi that her beauty is like the sunrise, and Mimi, dying, crying back, no, like a sunset, and Alice was in tears, but I was seeing all around us the faint outlines of buildings, brownstones with light in the windows, and through the shimmering walls I could see the rows of finely dressed New Yorkers in a grand golden hall. It was like those Kirlian photographs I’ve seen since, where the image of a leaf is whole, unharmed, although its tip had been torn off before the photo was made, and I thought: build and destroy, build and destroy, that is the way of the universe, the way of God. All things built, once destroyed, leave their imprint forever, ghost shapes that linger in the gaps, made of quarks and neutrinos and photons, everywhere, like the memory of water that hides in ice, like the possibility of ice that hides in water.

The ghostly side-by-side existence of multiple realities -- fiction/fact, past/present -- is more than just a writerly game that's fun to play. For me, it's a metaphoric description of actuality.

It works on more than one level. Quantum physics and string theory provide the foundation for simultaneous time, distanceless space, and an infinite number of parallel universes. Ancient wisdom traditions like Advaita (literally, "not two") tell us that what we see as reality is all an illusion: "Maya." A fiction. Our lives, our individual selves, the multitude of separate things we see around us -- all just ego-manufactured stories masking the Unity, the "ultimate indivisibility," that is the world's true nature.

Borges was writing something true when he described the infinite maze of possibilities in his story "The Garden of Forking Paths." Literary fiction holds a mirror up to the larger fiction of the world, and gives us a way to see past the details of our lives toward a larger context. That experience can be even richer when we consciously layer the "imaginary" over the "real," and that slippery juxtaposition presents us with the suddenly beautiful face of Mystery.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

This Self-Promotion Thing

My book hit the marketplace in late July and here it is November already! After what feels like much too long a delay, I have scheduled a public reading/booksigning event, graciously hosted by the Center for Photography at Woodstock (yes, that Woodstock, in New York state), Friday November 13, 6:00 pm.

CPW is a world-class, 32-year-old, nonprofit institution dedicated to supporting artists working in photography and related media. But wait a minute -- my book has nothing to do with photography. Why would they host a literary reading? Well, besides the fact that CPW is run by very nice people, it is also a prominent setting in my story "Signs," in which the elderly protagonist's small but important journey of self-discovery is furthered by his encounter with the images on the gallery walls -- entirely fictional photo exhibits, I might add. CPW Executive Director Ariel Shanberg even told me, "Hmm, I'll be interested to see what your ideas were for the photo shows in our galleries..." My new skill: imaginary curating! It was fun to write; now let's hope he likes it.

The point is, for you authors facing the promotion challenge, this is a way of stepping outside the predictable bookstore or coffee-bar venue for a reading/signing event. A real location mentioned in your book is a logical choice, a fun blurring of the fact/fiction boundaries, and its owners may welcome the added bit of exposure and cachet that an attachment to the literary world may give them.

Which is not to suggest that a writer should craftily fill their book with real-world settings they can then exploit for readings. Blecch.

Truth be told, I'm a little slow and reticent about this self-promotion thing. It could be said that for a self-published author, that's the kiss of death. So be it then... my raison d'etre is not the selling, but the writing. I want to get back to writing my next project as soon as possible, but ever since my book came out, all my (miniscule) free time has gone toward establishing a presence, getting reviews, posting on various networking sites (Facebook, Twitter, yikes!), blogging, etc.

I'm looking forward to this reading, because the contact with my potential readers that I like best is the flesh-and-blood kind. Shaking a real hand is much better than touching screen and keyboard to commune with a virtual mask.

So I feel myself gradually stepping away from constant online promotion, even as I'm just now doing my first booksigning. I'm grateful to Ariel and CPW, and (in advance) to the other venues where I'll appear from time to time in coming months. As my baby, The Principle of Ultimate Indivisibility, totters out into the world with just a little support from me, I hope you'll give it a closer look. The book is about connections. Let's connect.