#45: Tell It Like It Is, by Paul Florez
May 14, 2014
I never leave the apartment without my Moleskine notebook. I’m a freelance writer, author and MFA student. My livelihood, and sanity, is contingent upon the ability to obsessively scribble down seemingly arbitrary observations and thoughts onto a sheet of paper and making sense of them later. Was someone clipping their toenails on the subway? Jot down every detail and decipher the symbolism while having lunch with my boyfriend. Did someone accidently kick a blind person’s cane on 5th and 31st during rush hour? Write a short story about it with the main theme being the loss of innocence in a cosmopolitan jungle.
The compulsive need to document the world around me as it occurs in real time has angered and annoyed many of my loved ones. On more than one occasion, I’ve been told: “I have to watch what I say around you because it may end up in one of your stories.”
And they’re right. Writers should come with their own Surgeon’s Warning. “Warning: Hanging around a writer may cause public humiliation, embarrassment and may cause complicated friendship.”
I attended a wedding a long time ago where the priest forgot the last name of the couple he was marrying. It was at the beginning of the ceremony and the entire church held its breath until finally someone shouted out the last name. It was a situation so incredibly unique that it made the ceremony a one of a kind experience.
So I wrote down the particulars in my notebook, noting how even the bride and groom laughed as the priest stumbled over himself trying to remember their last name. As I wrote, my boyfriend Jeff gripped my wrist and shook his head in disapproval. “Don’t you dare write that down,” he whispered.
“Why,” I asked him later at the reception. “Everyone had a good sense of humor about it.”
“Because no one wants to remember that.”
The bride and groom are dear friends of ours and are the kind of New York power couple you are proud to know. If anyone has a sense of humor, it’s them. They have something many of us don’t have and that’s called confidence. I argued this, saying their confidence is something that shone through the halls of the church; however, Jeff did not see my point.
“Just promise me you won’t write about that, Paul.”
Similarly when I was an editorial intern for Wizard magazine back in 2007, I had to cover a panel featuring comic book writer Brian K. Vaughan at New York Comic Con. The panel was uneventful, with the same pre-rehearsed marketing copy meant to create hype among the fan base but deliver no real substance. During the Q&A, a man rose from his seat, and began yelling at Vaughan over the characters in his work. The man’s yelling was so intense that he had to be removed from the room. Everyone cheered as the man was escorted out, and Vaughn jokingly asked, “Anyone seen my number one fan lately?”
The situation brought everyone on the panel together, and even we the audience felt a rapport with Vaughn. From that point on, no one was afraid to ask the questions they wanted. And, for the record, Vaughn couldn’t have been more professional and charming about the entire ordeal.
I included the altercation in my write up of the panel, noting the sense of camaraderie in the room after the angry man was removed.
“The vibe in the room changed after the altercation,” I originally wrote. “And for the first time during Comic Con, I felt I got to know a creator firsthand, and witness how wrongfully angry some fans can become.”
When I got back to the pressroom my editor, in a very condescending tone, questioned why I included something like that in my write up.
I had no excuse to offer my editor other than that’s what happened. I was assigned to document the panel and I did just that. The altercation made the panel far more interesting and the end result was a shared moment between a creator and his fans.
“Our readers are suppose to feel like they were there,” I reasoned. “And I still included the information that was discussed. The angry fanboy is only mentioned for two lines.”
My editor reasoned otherwise, offering no explanation why it wasn’t kosher to include the altercation, and deleted it from my story.
As many of you know, I worked in publishing before I became a fulltime writer. The editorial mind in me understands the need for “edits” in the two stories I just outlined for you. However, the writer in me does not. Who wants to read about another perfect wedding or a lackluster Comic Con panel? These stories aren’t interesting. They’ve been done countless times. Also, as writers, it’s our job to be watchdogs and report on the facts. Not the fantasy.
In any case, stories are much more interesting when you write about how it happened versus how you think it should’ve happened (we’re in the Postmodern era, not the Romantic). Audiences respond better to truth. Always remember, fellow writers, tell it like it is.
Paul Florez is currently receiving his MFA in fiction at The New School. He is a contributor for the Huffington Post and his work has also appeared in Slice Magazine, Queerty, and The Advocate. You can follow his misadventures over on twitter @mrpaulflorez.