...and I can't help feeling guilty for telling other people's stories. Do all writers feel this way? When I think about all of the rich, devastating, ecstatic things that have happened to me or those close to me, I am (perhaps shamefully) excited at the thought of writing those stories. They'll make great stories! But then there's also a part of me - the compassionate or fearful part - that wonders whether or not this is violation of trust. At what point is it turning someone else's joy, pain, LIFE into a commodity, a vehicle for me to express myself? Because isn't that what writing is - a way to express ourselves to the world?
I'm hit with this problem when I think about my family's stories about their struggles in Mao's China. I'm hit with this problem when I think about the awful things that happened to some of my friends. I'm hit with this problem when I think about my mom.
When Chang-Rae Lee visited our creative writing class in my junior year at UT, I asked him the same question. He was there to promote The Surrendered, and I asked him how he could reconcile telling a good, meaty story with not exploiting the pain and suffering of the Korean War. I don't think he had a concrete answer or resolution either. You just have to make sure you're telling the truth to the best of your ability, he said.