Barry Hannah, the highly acclaimed writer from Mississippi who died last year, said something in an interview that I thought summed up the whole reason for writing fiction.
He said, “You get to be so many people.”
That pretty much says it all. Writing fiction allows you to be so many people. You can get inside the head of a child or an old person. You can put yourself inside somebody of the opposite sex or another race or religion. You can transport yourself to another galaxy where the rules are different and three suns shine. You can get outside your own skin and experience life as somebody else. You can even become an insect or a bird or a whale. Or a tree trunk like Clyde Edgerton did in one of his books. There are no limits to what you can be through writing fiction.
In our upside-down world, where values are determined by trivia rather than truly important things, writers of fiction usually don’t make much money. Oh sure, there are the Stephen Kings and the Dan Browns, but they’re the rare exception rather than the rule. Most writers are smart enough to be doctors or lawyers or plumbers, professions that pay good money, but we choose to toil away in low-paying obscurity because if we were those other professions we’d just be stuck with ourselves. We’d never get to be a bank robber in the old west, or a PI on the trail of a kidnapped president of a middle-American country, or a diamond merchant in Algiers, or a cat sitter sleuth. Fiction writers may look like we live sedate lives behind our computer screens, but we’re all a multitude of people!