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Is a Writer Equivalent to His/Her Characters

First and foremost, welcome to my new blog at my new website. I hope you'll enjoy it and find it perceptive.

And thanks to my webmaster, Wendy Guberman, who brought a long-lasting dream to fruition. (And a necessary one, since my previous website kind of disappeared!)

The question for today is: Does lightning strike twice?

That I don't know. I do know my father had a saying -- its origins possibly Russian or Yiddish -- that "If two people tell you you're drunk, lie down."

To extrapolate, if within a week, the same theme pops up in conversation, one should probably take note.

That theme is whether a writer's plots and characters are an accurate reflection of his or her values, especially if those characters have less-than-stellar characters.

The first mention came up in a phone interview with an actor appearing in an operetta whose lyrics trouble her -- as they apparently do others. They reflect, she said, the misogyny of the writer, whose female characters are either ditzy or passive.

I didn't agree -- pointing out at least one case of an important female character in one of his operettas who meets true disappointment in love, but remains strong and outspoken.

Moreover, I told her, while novelists, playwrights, etc., are to some degree writing about themselves, they also create many characters they may love to hate, who may not reflect their personal, philosophical, or political views at all. I, for example, have in my drawer a play in which the female protagonist -- who's very strong -- suffers abuse at the hands of many men, with different degrees of malicious intent. And none of them represents me!

A few days later, another conversation settled on Philip Roth, who had passed away earlier that week.

For some, the prolific novelist was one of the best around -- dominating the literary scene of the 20th century. His fans were outraged he had received many awards but denied the Nobel Prize in Literature. For others, Roth was an embarrassment to the Jewish community and a hater of women.

I didn't agree. Having read some of Roth books (but not all), I can see why people might say that, but again, put forth the belief that a novel is not a carbon copy of a writer's creations.

As proof (beyond my own work), I cited a much-less-known writer whose collections of short stories I had edited. They were full of strange plot twists, sexual infidelities, violence, and on and on. And yet, there he is, a conservative (in lifestyle) Orthodox Jew with a wife and few visible demons. The stories were a tribute to his imagination, not a mirror image of his life.

Or, as a sign on my office door says: Warning: Novelist at Work: Bystanders May Be Written into the Story."

Writers know they're subject to criticism, which may have less to do with their talent than with the opinions others read into their work. It's the price they pay for wanting to write, especially fiction and drama. I just wish people would see the (possible) distinction between writing and writers.