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)
The 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.