Writing, Bounty Hunting and Secret Sharing

Last night I took a break from grading plays and watched a televsion program I usually watch when I can remember it is on. It is a horrible thing for me to admit but I do watch reality television from time to time. I also watch Fox and Friends in the morning because, like Jon Stewart on the Daily Show says, I have low self-esteem when it comes to pop culture.

Anyway I am watching my reality bounty hunting television show and they are following these bounty hunters as they look for fugitives–really they look for people who have not appeared in court and owe them money so it feels more like debt collection than Tommy Lee Jones Fugitive-esque bounty hunting. And the fugitive was caught pretty quickly without much detecting and then this one fugitive cries and goes on about his habit and his dead-end life. It is all pretty horrible. The camera is right in his face as he cries and goes on and as he hugs his wife with handcuffed limbs for seemingly the last time since he has skipped court appearances and is probably looking at significant time away. And I couldn’t help but feel real hatred for the reality tv form in this moment and I felt like the producers and the star of this show were exploiting this person–they were making money and fame and ratings off of this poor guy’s arrest. Off of this poor guy’s failures.

They were sensationalizing his failures and giving us the intimate moment of realization of failure. Sensationalism at its best which I have to admit is part of the reason Americans watch cops and watch the Evening News. And I felt really awful about myself and why I wasn’t working on my own manuscripts at that moment like most moments I take time for myself instead of work or school–or even my dog. Then it hit me–am I doing anything too different in my manuscripts–in my fiction?

And isn’t it just like a writer to present someone else’ story for an audience and then feel bad about the realting of the intimate. Who gives me the right to tell someone else’s story?

I mean this idea of the secret sharer or the recording angel I have studied and learned of in fiction–from Marjorie Sandor’s mostly–seems connected to this idea of exploiting the story for a given purpose. I mean it seems more than means of perception to me and more like exploitation. And I worry about this. I hesitate to make my family caricatures and types. I worry about as one writer friend told me–all the cabron stuff–in the manuscript. I think she meant it as a verisimilitude concern rather than a content criticism I assume but my friends and Abuelitos talked like that and I want to capture it. I mean the Uncle does have a rough life and doesn’t seem to care though those around him do and I want to capture that. I don’t, however, want to exploit or sell that out for the sake of a story. And I am sure this is a concern most writers have. What exactly am I sharing and why am I sharing it?

Why tell the story and who would want to hear the story? A student in my class said it best–who would want to read this I keep asking myself?

And my answer would be the Uncle and the Abuelitos. I want to write for an elite audience and a local audience–as broad an audience as possible–at least I hope. Like Bell Hooks I want to represent a community rather than exploit community or empower myself. Well, I do want to empower my own creative literacies with these stories but not at ther expense. Perhaps that is the difference.

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

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