What nonfictional topics have you explored in your fiction writing?

Q&A With Shay Each Sunday

Fiction is basically reality, sometimes better, sometimes worse. People like to say “stranger than fiction” but some fiction can be pretty strange! Just the way I like it. Or “you can’t make this stuff up.” Actually you can, because even the weirdest fiction is inspired by nonfiction. Plus, fiction writers make things up for a living.

Q: What nonfictional topics have you explored in your fiction writing?

A: So many. I tend to write fairly dark stories. Not QUITE as much as I used to because I honed my craft and realized I was being fairly melodramatic and unrealistic. But, dark themes, especially psychological or emotional ones intrigue me.

I have explored depression in a couple stories, and especially in my novel FRACTURED. Also along those lines I have explored cutting, suicide, self-medication, and sexual assault. I feel these subjects are important to bring awareness to, and for readers to get to follow a difficult journey with a relatable character who struggles in a way that many everyday people do.

I have always really wanted to explore shyness, even selective mutism, given my resonance with this (you can read my blog on selective mutism here), but it’s incredibly hard to pull off! I tried to work it in a bit in my novel FRACTURED, but the character who was shy was not the narrator and I think that’s one of the reasons it ultimately didn’t work the way I thought it could. I have gotten many comments about that character being too mysterious and vague, and not getting to know her at all, which of course is what real shyness is! But it doesn’t make for the most interesting character interactions. It could probably work a lot better if the shy character was the narrator though because you’d get those inner thoughts. So, I’m sure it’s something I’ll explore again in a different project. It’s there to an extent in FRACTURED, but not as much as I initially envisioned.

I have explored online dating in my story “You Were There.” Have explored the obligation that people feel to be polite even when it could put them in danger in “Stranger in the Snow.” I explored what happens when an impressionable person lets themselves get manipulated and led down a dark path that they may not be able to come back from—for another person. I have explored grief, delusion, love, betrayal, pain, basically what makes up a human being.

In my book of poetry I’ve been exploring nature a lot. I had written a lot of old poems that were inspired when I was sitting outside, observing. Sometimes I find myself in awe of nature and trying to describe it in a way that can do any justice is a fun challenge. I’m also exploring broken friendships and betrayal in some of these poems from my own personal experiences. I wrote a few things down many years ago when something major happened to me and I re-discovered these works in progress and gave them new life, which has been tremendously satisfying.

What I was fascinated by most when I started my book CRASHING WAVES—about 7-8 years ago now—was the way in which other humans see (but don’t really see) and judge someone without knowing their whole story. We all do this on literally an everyday basis. It’s pretty impossible not to. But, it’s still important to have the awareness. Thinking about life in all its dimensions gives us more awareness, and writing can give clarity (also a lot of confusion). A side note is that this book ended up completely changing and is still probably going to, but that intention I had when I began has always stuck with me. It was the first really big project I embarked on and I like knowing that I had these ideas way back then. I feel writing is basically trying to make sense of things in our own voice, because everything has been done before and no story is necessarily new, but we make them ours.