Here’s a caution I’ve repeated more than once and which seems necessary now since the publication of Watermyth. Now, this caution may not be true of all authors but it’s certainly true of seasoned authors who spend a lot of time and energy constructing multiple worlds, nuanced characters with a multitude of viewpoints. Essentially, do not mistake characters in these tales I write as being self-inserts, or about me, or anyone else. As I like to say in my creative writing classes: writing about bank robbers does not make an author a bank robber. Similarly, writing about a wide range of characters with different personalities, motivations, beliefs, and lifestyles does not necessarily mean I am any of these characters or live said lifestyles. Certainly, writing can fulfil a wish-fulfilment fantasy angle for some — but mostly for beginning writers. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! I’ve been there! However, when you reach my stage of the game (I’m 48, and I’ve been writing since I was 8 years old and I’ve been a creative writing educator for over a decade), something entirely different is going on. You have matured in the process and therefore, your process matures.
There’s something about the transformative alchemy of writing that allows different characters to exist. I suppose one COULD argue that every character we create may be considered a self-insert. After all experiences and nuances get filtered through our individual lenses so in a sense every character is a fractal of you. But one could argue the same of all art. I like to see the process as me, entering a laboratory in my mind palace and going, “what if I put this attribute and this attribute together? What if I splice it with this life experience and create a fork in the road from that experience?”
Following from these kinds of “What-ifs”, I construct charts, make beat sheets, plot entire causal relationships and talk through (with myself) the changes that shape any given character’s trajectory, and how this will cause them to grow — or in some cases, decline.
I think these kinds of assumptions tend to assail women writers of colour moreso than most other types of authors because there’s always the assumption that everything we write is autobiographical or allegorical, as though somehow we cannot compartmentalize enough for different forms of literary creation. Sure, sometimes our beliefs and our convictions seep into our texts. But most of the time we just want to sink our teeth into constructing a good story, one that other readers can immerse themselves into and then perhaps see life in a different way through that process. That’s what I personally hope for, as an author, really. I’ve had a lot of trauma in my life but I’m certainly not interested in recreating pity porn or trauma porn to be consumed by others so it will be considered “of literary merit”. I leave that for others. If at all I wish to educate or shed a light upon certain issues or concerns in my texts, I hope it happens the way all good lessons happen, as part of experience and during the process of immersion. I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about the content, technique and affect needed for immersion in texts. I’m not sure I’ve made it there yet but that won’t stop me trying. At night, in this laboratory that takes up 30% of my mind palace.