Saturday, September 29, 2007

A Writer Going Mad

I talk to myself. I know that sounds bad. Real bad. But it could be worse. A could be talking to myself.

“Hey, Robert, how is it going?”

“Great, and you?”

“Not bad. Not bad. Could be better.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean.”

“You do?” Finally someone who understands me!

Occasionally though, I have to admit, I do hear voices.

“Who said that?”

All writers of fiction, by the way, hear voices. We turn these snatches of conversation into characters and voila – we create a new short story. A novel. Simple as that. Or is it?”

“Are you asking me?”

“Who are you?”

If we heard voices and didn’t write them down other people may consider us mad. No doubt the men in the white coats would seek us out and cart us off to the funny farm.

“That’s not funny!”

“Who said that?”

“You don’t want to know.”

Sometimes I do. The writer part of me is always curious. Sometimes these so-called ‘voices’ say things that sound familiar, like something out of my past. Things I had wanted to say but didn’t. Or things I should have said, like those snappy comeback lines that didn’t come until a day or two days later, long after the person whom I want to say it to, is long gone.

When these conversational holdovers resurface I invariably work them into a character’s dialogue and you can darn well bet this time around I’ll get the timing right. I’ll definitely be snappy. And funny, too. I’ll have all the characters laugh just to prove it.

If it’s not funny then I’ll rewrite it until it is. You can do that in fiction. In real life what comes out of your mouth comes right out – uncensored, too. Half the time I wish I could have rephrased what I said, or take it back altogether. Some things are just better left unsaid.

“You can say that again.”

“Who’s asking you?”

Actually it’s not what you say it’s how you say it. Your tone can add a lot of
extra meaning. You can also imply a lot by leaving out certain facts. That’s what we do in fiction all of the time. Try doing that in real life. And it’ll eventually catch up with you. Like the saying goes, “What goes around comes around.”

Then there are those who can embellish an every day incident and turn it into a hilarious misadventure where even total strangers are captivated for hours. I love people like that. On my good days I can usually captivate people for about four minutes. After that I run out of things to say and end up talking about myself. Call it a nervous habit.

Other people when they reach this conversational impasse, talk about the weather, and in Malaysia, that weather is always hot.

“Hot today, isn’t it?”

“It’s hot all right. It was hot yesterday and I bet it’s going to be hot tomorrow.”

Or they talk about their latest illness or injury.

“Banged my knee the other day. Now it’s my elbow that’s bothering me. Last week I had this bad cold and a nagging chest pain…”

Or they try to impress you.

“Bought a new car yesterday – fourth one this month.”

At times we’re a combination of all of these. Ever listen to yourself at a cocktail party? Half the time you’re talking pure nonsense. More often than not you’re only talking to yourself. Sure you’d like to think that stunning woman is hanging on your every word or that executive type who would look good in your wedding photograph is really impressed with you. Chances are he may not even remember your name and couldn’t care less. Think of all those times you had pretended you were listening when in fact you were only thinking of a good excuse to make your escape.

“Look who’s talking.”

“You stay out of this.”

Now where was I? Oh, yeah at a party. Usually whenever I get the urge to meet someone new I’ll approach them cautiously and say something safe to test the conversational waters.

“So, here we are,” I might say to someone who happens to be standing close by, as we wait for a refill.

The man looks up at me and I do a double take.

“Say, you look awful familiar, have we met before?”

He nods. It’s one of those nods that could mean yes, no, or he’s nodding off to sleep. So I try again.

“So, what do you do?”

“I’m a writer.”

“Really, how interesting. So am I. What is it you write?”

“Fiction.”

“Hey, me too. Isn’t that a coincidence?

“Is it?”

I have to think about this one. He does look awfully familiar.

“May I know your name?”

“Same as yours.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m you.”

“Nah, you can’t be. If you’re me, who am I?”

“Good question.”

“Wait a minute. I recognize that voice. You’re the one I hear in the back of my head. You’re the one always giving me those great ideas. Gee, thanks.”

“Don’t mention it.”

“Wait another minute. If you’re me then I’m talking to myself, and that is worse than talking about myself. A lot worse. If you’re really me, then I must be going mad. Mad.”

“You said it.”

“Who said that?”

I think I really am going mad. Where are those people in the white coats when you really need them?
# # #


***Here the link to my website, to MPH online for orders for all three of my books, including my latest, Spirit of Malaysia and for Trois autres Malaisie.

4 comments:

DreaMachine said...

Hey Mr.Raymer, How are you doing? How is the East Coast treating you?

BorneoExpatWriter said...

Hi Dreamachine Wai Ling,
Not East Coast -- East Malaysia! Sarawak! Nearly a year now and so far so good. Have a new book coming out too, a collection of articles about my twenty years in Malaysia. Later, once the title is confirmed I'll blog about it, perhaps post the introduction and create some advance buzz. Hope all is well with you.

Chin Liang said...

Hi Mr Raymer,

I am Chin Liang and I used to be your student back in USM 4 years ago hey I happen to come across your articles on the internet and they all look good!!
Congrats !! You have your books published I wonder where I can get a copy in Penang?

BorneoExpatWriter said...

Hi, thanks. Popular and MPH in Gurney may stil have some. The new books from MPH aren't out yet; they're still in the editing process.