This week, Write On! Online talks to Amy Klein, writer of the graphic memoir, True Confessions of an Online Dating Addict. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, and a number of anthologies.
When did you first start writing?
I have always been writing creatively, but I started working as a journalist in 1995 at The Jerusalem Post. I have been a reporter since then, but looking back over all my clips, I can see it was the personal writing—the essays, the memoirs, the first-person reported pieces—that gave me the most satisfaction. I think when I started out in this field, I didn’t know there was a “memoir” or “essayist” choice; I thought there was only “fact” and “fiction.”
Why did you write this blog/graphic novel?
I had been writing a singles column for three years, and it was fun and good and meaningful, but I was feeling like it was too easy—and maybe too repetitive. I was looking for something else to do with it. I was at the Harvard-Nieman Narrative Journalism conference a few years ago and heard a speaker, Joe Sacco, who wrote the graphic memoir, Palestine. It was a reported book told in pictures and it was unlike anything I’d ever seen. It captured his experiences in the territories from the first intifada but it was all illustrated. I wasn’t really aware then of the graphic novel field. Sure, I knew about *comic books* but not literary stories told through pictures. (Aside from Art Spiegleman’s Maus, which I had read but had not considered as part of a genre.) I thought, “Hey, this might be a good way to depict my dating stories.”
I had written a 4,000-word essay about internet dating that I had always been planning on turning into a longer book, but the challenge—aside from the plethora of books about dating—was how to depict all the crazy machinations of internet dating. I thought a graphic novel would be the perfect way to show all the multiple streams—IM’s, Facebook, texting, etc. So I decided to turn my column—800 word weekly piece—into an illustrated column, which ran for 20 weeks and is now being serialized in other newspapers.
How is this different from your other kinds of writing?
Working with an artist—a partner—is definitely challenging, especially when you’re used to working on your own, as a writer. I had two other artists before I discovered Amber Shields (we met at a graphic novel writing class). She seemed to be the only one who could make my visions come alive—and go beyond my expectations. We end up being true collaborators because I give instructions on what to draw, but she also changes the writing if it doesn’t work.
Writing a graphic novel is different than writing a column because less is more. I have to try and cut, cut, cut the words down so there’s more happening visually and less being said. It puts a great focus on “show, don’t tell.” It’s also easy to see when the story lags—you can’t have *nothing* happening when there are pictures that go with it. It’s more like a screenplay than anything else. Especially when you have to pay attention to the shots—long shot, medium shot, close-up etc. These pace the story along and you have to be sure to mix it up.
What’s the greatest challenge about writing something so personal? The greatest reward?
I am beginning to see that this is the kind of writing that has always interested me—the deeply personal. I remember being a reporter and covering amazing things like a bombing but really wanting to insert myself into the story somewhere, but there was no room for that (back then) in hard-news reporting.
“What so great about you that you want to write about yourself?” people have said to me. I think my training as a reporter has given me an eye for detail and an ear for the dialogue of a good quote. (And my Facebook updates are certainly better than “I’m going to the store/gym/bank.”) No, as I’ve told students in personal essay writing class, I am still reporting, but the subject just happens to be myself.
Also, I remind my students and others is that although I am writing about myself, there’s still a *persona* there, a character. At the end of my column I asked readers to give suggestions on how “Amy” comes across. Is she too critical? Too whiny? It has to work as a character as well.
One challenge is that there are always people who do not like what I write—even though I go to great lengths to disguise identities of my dates—but people in my family, if they are mentioned, are not always pleased. Another challenge is that things may have changed along the way—but the story is already out there. I tend not to look back on the writing of years ago because sometimes I can’t believe I put some of that stuff out there and I’m thinking, “Oh My God! Did I really write that?”
What was your favorite part of the process?
Sometimes I can’t believe that this little idea I once had—”Let me write a graphic novel!”—has actually materialized. I had no idea what I was getting into—and now I am immersed in the genre.
It’s amazing to me that I write up these little pages with notes about the pictures I imagine, and then the first pencil draft comes in from the artist and there it is! All drawn up. It’s like your thoughts come to life. (I hope one day I’ll be able to think without pictures).
What’s next for True Confessions of an Online Dating Addict?
Right now we are working with our agent on the book True Confessions of an Internet Dating Addict. The book will have some of the same elements as the column—me, of course—but it will have a fuller narrative arc. It will start from the beginning (the column started in the middle, as it was following my regular, non-illustrated column) and be fleshed out to include friends and family. It will also not just be date-date-date- but the character will have a story arc, from wide-eyed newbie to cynical old-hat. We hope after the book comes out it will be turned into a TV show. Sex and the City meets Family Guy.