Today I’m delighted to be hosting a stop on The Epiphany Jones Blog Tour, and am handing over the hot seat here at CTG HQ to Michael Grothaus to talk about why dissatisfaction is important in writing well.
Michael is a novelist and journalist who spent years researching sex trafficking, research which is put to use in his debut novel EPIPHANY JONES. Born in Saint Louis, Missouri, he has a degree in filmmaking, and as a journalist writes about creativity, tech, subcultures, sex and pornography, and the effects of mass media on our psyches.
Over to Michael …
The Importance of Dissatisfaction In Writing Well
In my novel EPIPHANY JONES there are two main characters. There’s Epiphany, for whom the book is named after, and then there’s Jerry Dresden. As you’ll soon discover when you start to read the book, Jerry isn’t in a good place when the story begins. He suffers from a horrible psychological affliction where he sees people who don’t really exist and he can interact with them—having conversations, even being able to “feel” them when he “touches” them—as easily as you or I can interact with each other.
But perhaps what’s worse is Jerry is also an addict, but instead of the usual addictions novelists write about—booze, drugs—Jerry has a porn addiction. But as with most addictions, Jerry’s addiction to porn comes from trying to dull the pain of past tragedy. Because of his psychological afflictions and addiction Jerry can be a pretty cynical, dissatisfied, angry guy.
When people finish reading the book, I’m not really surprised to hear them say “I started off not wanting to hang out with Jerry, but by the end of the book I loved him.” What does surprise me is more than a handful of people have added “You seem like such a nice, happy guy, Michael; I had no idea you had that much anger in you.” And some even then add “So, were you addicted to porn?”
Now for the record: no, I’ve never had a porn addiction. But, hey, you write a first person story about a guy who has a porn addiction and some readers are just going to think it’s autobiographical. I get that. I do.
But what those same readers are right about is the anger. That dissatisfaction Jerry feels? That comes from me—at least part of it. And that dissatisfaction, I believe, is essential to being a good writer. Why? Because I’ve never met anyone who was completely satisfied, content, and happy who could write well.
I know people who want to “be writers” (whatever that means) who are wealthy, or privileged and never wanted for anything, or have never had a health problem, or never experienced significant loss—and none of them can write well. I know people who don’t care about politics, or the environment, or poverty, of the suffering that goes on around the world—and none of them can write well.
These people are not bad or stupid or foolish—indeed, they are all very fortunate (or lucky). Yet because of this rare good fortune they lack dissatisfaction, which is the single most important resource that writers have—if they use it wisely. Dissatisfaction spurs anger and anger can be used productively. Productively, it’s what gets you in front of your keyboard to write a story holding a mirror up to society so it can see itself as it really is. It’s what spurs you to write characters that challenge readers’ assumptions about why people are the way they are. It’s what allows you to create worlds as which you wish ours would be (or warn against what ours may become).
We would not have the masterpiece 1984 if George Orwell was not dissatisfied with the imperialism of his own government and the totalitarianism of other governments. We would not have THE GLASS BEAD GAME had Hermann Hesse not been dissatisfied with the lack of individualism among intellectual elites. And we would not have THE GREAT GATSBY had Scott Fitzgerald not been dissatisfied with the failure of the American dream.
As for me, I’m dissatisfied with things in life: our obsession with celebrities when there are real issues to pay attention to; the prevalence of sex trafficking that goes mostly unnoticed; the hypocrisy of those who condemn people with addictions but have their own vices securely locked away from prying eyes.
And yes, I’m happy too. But I’m also happy to be dissatisfied where dissatisfaction is justified. Dissatisfaction is a powerful tool for creativity and you can’t write well without it.
Big thanks to Michael for chatting to us on the CTG blog today.
Michael’s debut novel EPIPHANY JONES is out this month. Here’s what the blurb says: “A man with a consuming addiction. A woman who talks to God. And the secret connection that could destroy them both … Jerry has a traumatic past that leaves him subject to psychotic hallucinations and depressive episodes. When he stands accused of stealing a priceless Van Gogh painting, he goes underground, where he develops an unwilling relationship with a woman who believes that the voices she hears are from God. Involuntarily entangled in the illicit world of sex-trafficking amongst the Hollywood elite, and on a mission to find redemption for a haunting series of events from the past, Jerry is thrust into a genuinely shocking and outrageously funny quest to uncover the truth and atone for historical sins.
A complex, page-turning psychological thriller, riddled with twists and turns, Epiphany Jones is also a superb dark comedy with a powerful emotional core. You’ll laugh when you know you shouldn’t, be moved when you least expect it and, most importantly, never look at Hollywood, celebrity or sex in the same way again.”
To find out more about Michael Grothaus visit his website here and follow him on Twitter @michaelgrothaus
And be sure to check out all the other great stops on the blog tour: