Facing Facts…And Fiction
By Jonathan Curelop
The first draft of my recently published novel, TANKER 10, was completed in 1988, about 25 years ago. I was a year or so out of college and pursuing an acting career in Chicago. Except for one Creative Writing class, I’d never studied writing. A rejection letter from an agent was enough to convince me that the book was a 400 page hunk of junk so I tossed it in the filing cabinet and moved on.
Fast forward to 1995, after a couple of years of living in New York City, and my decision to study Creative Writing in graduate school. Fast forward another ten years to when I was itching for a new writing project. I’d written many short stories and a series of novellas, but now it was time for a bigger challenge. Of course, I remembered the dusty manuscript I had tucked away decades before, but every time I opened that filing cabinet and reached for the Speedy Printing box, the drawer closed. This wouldn’t be a casual project like it had been in my early twenties. This time it would be for real.
Why had it taken so long for me to start flipping through the tattered dot matrix paper? Life gets in the way, right? I had a full-time job and a marriage. Writing would have to take a back seat. Also, as I discovered when I finally took my first look, there would be a fair amount of research – research that I didn’t have the patience for when I wrote the first draft. There were medical angles that needed to be covered. I’d have to consult a urologist, an endocrinologist. And I’d have to find out about baseball…every level from Little League to college ball and semi-pro.
None of that really mattered. The truth was that I had to face the facts: this was my story. And if I wanted it to be good, I would need to cut through all the half-truths and coy dodges of the original draft. I would need to confront my past honestly.
Not that TANKER 10 is a memoir, it’s not. However, everything that occurs in the book is triggered from actual events in my childhood: being bullied by my older brother; being hospitalized for an injury in an area that is…shall we say…sensitive; the sudden death of a friend; being overweight; being petrified of girls. Did I really want to delve into that mess? Not just as a writer, but as a brother.
My brother! What would his reaction be? Would he ever speak to me again? What would my mother say if the book ever came to light? Should I care? And what about my other brother, who’s not even mentioned in the book? Will he feel left out?
The more frank the book became – stripped of its superficial veneer, revealing scenes of sibling cruelty and candid, sometimes explicit, sexuality – the more my fingers trembled at this discovery . I was overcome with an urgent desire to tell my story in a way that others could relate to it. I would mine the truth of my childhood. Maybe not the exact truth or the historical truth, but the emotional truth – the truth of the story. A blend of both truth and fiction, of memory and make believe. Understanding what this meant, I felt myself becoming a writer, as opposed to someone who was just writing something.