In writing and reading fiction, we enter our own terrain. The writer writes from her place, and the reader interprets from hers. It is personal, can be eccentric and odd (I’m reading Thomas Bernhard right now, he qualifies), and cannot be duplicated.
Case in point. I’m writing this blog post from Jackson Heights, Queens (New York City), corner of 75th Street and 37th Avenue. I took the No. 7 train from Times Square, something I’ve always wanted to do since I read an article in the newspaper about traveling while staying home. You see every nationality, every product, every cuisine, every fashion on the 7 line and you never have to leave the city.
I could write about the colorful street running under the elevated train line, how it feels like a bazaar, how I hardly ever see any plain western woman like myself, how I don’t really belong here. Quite a few people give me a quick once-over. I could write a journal entry, a blog entry, a newspaper piece about the exotic mix, but I don’t want to write facts.
In a novel, the outside world comes in, yes, but it’s sifted through the writer’s and then the reader’s imagination. In making up facts that resemble the actual world but are not the actual world, I satisfy my need to find something very real within myself, as real as the colorful Nepalese, Indians, Pakistanis, Latinos, Chinese, Koreans, Croatians, Albanians. . . .
A woman who is a plain, white American sits in a surprisingly bland coffee shop at 37th Avenue and 75th Street. From her ordinary formica table she watches saris and burqas pass by. She is in the quiet eye of a swirling mix of people.
But wait. Something is about to happen. We’re about to jump into a story. There are no facts to obey. A stranger walks in, sits down at her table, and says, “Pardon me, but I couldn’t help noticing. . . .”