Rhode Island

When I was 18 and just starting college in Illinois, I took a poetry class from a famous poet. I don’t recall his name just now, but he was impressive. For some reason that I didn’t really understand (and still don’t), poetry unlike other writing is supposed to be “real” — you’re not supposed to write about things that you haven’t experienced. At least that was the unspoken assumption then. But I hadn’t experienced anything.

A few months in we were to write about a place yada yada. Nothing inspired my creativity, so I decided to write about a fictional beach in Rhode Island. I had returned there, expecting something, but ended up feeling nothing, etc. People loved it, the professor thought it was good, too. Then another student pointed out there was a small flaw: I had screwed up the color of the water. She had actually been to Rhode Island beaches. Oh. At that point I said I had made it all up.

The students were shocked, and then applauded. The professor congratulated me and gave me an A. I don’t think it was an A-worthy poem. He just liked that I had the balls to fictionalize poetry, though I didn’t really think this was such a BFD.

Now that I’m back to writing “real fiction” as opposed to erotica (for the time being), I sometimes think to incorporate a few of my real experiences, in a highly disguised and fictionalized way, natch. But that writing turns out to be some of my worst almost without fail. When I make shit up out of whole cloth, it’s generally much better, especially if I know absolutely nothing of what I’m talking about.

And now there’s Google to look things up like the color of the ocean off Rhode Island to get the nitpickers off my back. 🙂

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7 responses to “Rhode Island

  1. OK, I remembered… it was Laurence Lieberman.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurence_Lieberman

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  2. Asbestos Dust, Art Critique

    Surely they’d have written the color off to “poetic license.” That whiny little girl who’d actually been to Rhode Island (which pretty well says all that needs to be said about her anyhow) would probably have bitched because Picasso got the horses the wrong shape in “Guernica.” You should have told her you made it brown to symbolize the shit-headedness of being a literal-minded, zero-imagination, stick-in-the -mud.

    Of course, if you made it something other than brown, you just screwed up.

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  3. When I make shit up out of whole cloth, it’s generally much better, especially if I know absolutely nothing of what I’m talking about.

    So there’s hope for me?

    Also, what color was the damn water, anyway? You know, in case I want to write a pome.

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  4. Water changes color depending on the weather, the algae and the depth. Beach water (sic!) has a tendency to have several colors, depending on how much sand and seaweed and surf it’s dicking around with. That girl must’ve seen a pool. You deserved your A, Paula!

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  5. Newsflash: Shakespeare had never been to Denmark. Clue: neither had most of his audience. Make up whatever you like, and if people dispute the facts, fuck ’em. It’s fiction duh.
    People go on at Stieg Larsson if his hero turns a corner from one street in Stockholm to another street blocks away. But a wholesale nationwide right-wing conspiracy to undermine the democratic system? That they can swallow whole.
    Most people reading even stupid books like the Millennium trilogy have no clue how to read fiction. Set your sights on those who do have.

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  6. What Keera said. Even rivers, the brown kind, change.

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  7. Agree with Alan. “Write what you know” should always be very loosely applied. Otherwise the entire fantasy genre wouldn’t exist. Pretty sure Tolkien did not personally know any elves, and he had to make up the colors of everything.

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