Monday, October 31, 2011

I'm a Liar

Some months back I served on jury duty.

For those who may not know what that is--"it's your civic duty, son." At least that's what I've been told.

In a nutshell, it's where a large number of unhappy people come together in a poorly-lit hall, where unhappy county employees treat them poorly, and a judge hopes that the unhappy people are ready to participate in the legal process of determining ones innocence or guilt.

I was on the panel for a criminal case (gang related stuff... fun). Not a lot of pressure. Rival gangs, where the life of a 22-year-old sat on the balance. Like I said, no pressure.

The judge and attorneys started with some basic questions. What is your occupation, have you served on a jury before, etc?

When they got to me I said I had two jobs. By day, I set information technology strategy in the entertainment industry, but by night, I write novels.

(By the way, you better learn to say it with pride and power. Use your words to remind the universe that this writing thing is real. Your muse will hear it if you believe it)

Honoré Daumier 018The next step was where the attorneys asked different questions of the potential jurors, with hopes to select the best fit and to eliminate the worst.

The defense attorney, a scary looking guy, who could have been a gang member himself, suddenly turned to me.

"Juror number nine, have you lied before?"
"I lie all the time," I said.
He flinched. Literally took one step back. "I write novels," I continued. "It's my job."

Somehow I was selected for the case, and I must say it was exhilarating, depressing, scary at times, but in the end, I felt good about what we had done.

At the end of the case, we all had a chance to talk to the lawyers. The attorney in question approached me.

"That thing about being a liar... that was a first. I had to tell my wife about it," he said.

I know I was grinning.

The job of a fiction writer is to create a world where the reader finds herself living in that town, with those people, in that time period--but the place never existed. We create characters that you want to believe could be your best friend if you ever met them--but they were conceived in the author's mind. We create situations that make you feel like they could absolutely happen to you--but they never did. We can also take seemingly innocent questions like, "Where were you?" and turn them into a 90,000-word story.

We are liars. We don't make excuses, nor apologize for it. We lie because we can. We lie because our readers expect it from us. We lie, because the truth of our world is sometimes scarier than the worlds we create on the pages you read.

But when it comes to the stories we tell, we never hold back, we never take the easy path--there we always tell the truth. The people, the places and the situation are all fabrications. But the message and the sincerity by which we tell the story is true. We find the most painful or exhilarating emotions in our lives and transpose them to our characters. These fake people become the vessel to tell our truth. The only truth we know.

Those who know writers will sometimes wonder why we're a bit moody sometimes, or seem hurt or even sad. It's because, when we write, the worlds and the people we create are real. They carry our truth. We are vested in the story, in the characters and their outcome. These lies need to feel true to us, otherwise our readers will never believe us. And that would be a crime worthy of a judge and jury.

"Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. Anything at all... so long as you tell the truth." 
-- Stephen King, On Writing

Fight the good fight.


  1. It's a funny job we have, isn't it? We admittedly make up people and situations and tell them where to go and what to do and yet we MUST tell the truth within that imaginary space. I am surprised they let you on the jury. "Information technology" reeks of engineering and they typically hate engineers for having a black-and-white view of life. I guess the habitual-liar-writer cancelled that out.

  2. LOL! Gayle, you're killing me. You are right. IT is the worst kind of engineering :) The court was desperate. They started with a pool of 80 jurors and some of the people were out of this world crazy. I think they were trying their best to get removed. I even told them that I am friends with three cops, two DAs and three defense attorneys. They still kept me. Hey, at least I told the truth ;)

  3. Great post, Ara. I've been called for jury duty--in the same courtroom where the Michael Jackson trial was, but not for that one, thank God--but I wasn't selected.

    Anyway, good point about the dichotomy of our chosen profession (can you call it that when you're not getting paid?). I love your answer, and that they kept you in spite of--or maybe because of--it.

  4. Thanks, Gwen. Interestingly enough, the defense attorney wanted jurors who knew that sometimes in life we lie, but that does not make us a bad person. Circumstances push us there. He was looking for jurors who could see the shades of gray and not be black or white about it.

    And yes, we can call it a profession :) We have to believe it and treat it that way, and then one day it'll happen.

  5. What a great post! I honestly never would have thought of connecting jury duty to writing and I love your answer.

    I'm guessing (since I see you said they were looking for jurors who could see shades of gray) your answer was unexpected, but what they were looking for as you not only admitted to lying (and you obviously didn't think you were a bad person for it), but you went on to explain how it was necessary for your profession (thus, seeing the shades of gray).

  6. Thanks, Ava. And yes, you nailed it. The attorney nearly said as much after the case was over. The judge came and visited us once we had given our verdict and reminded me that I can't write about this case for the next thirty days. Although I would not have dreamt of it (I don't write that kind of stuff), I thought that was funny that by declaring that I'm a writer, it planted a few seeds :)

  7. Aloha Ara,

    Did I ever tell you I love your post titles... I saw "I'm a Liar" and I was like, wha-, whoa, what's going on with my Bluddy:)

    All became clear (of course) and I really enjoyed your take on the experience, as the nearest I've ever been to a jury pool is down at the YMCA!

    Cheers, and aloha!

  8. Don't worry, Mark. I am still same crazy person who finds the most obscure ways to connect the normal world to my writing world :)

  9. I have given you an award on my blog, stop by to claim it.


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