Sunday, March 27, 2005

Citadel on the Mountain

When we set out on our journey to Richmond, it never occurred to me that I would have a story to tell. I took some notes on thoughts I was having at the time. I wrote in my journal some. But I never intended to write out this story. It just came to me over the course of the end of 2003, sort of as an unrelenting need to struggle with what had happened to me--especially the strange sleepy sensations I was having and the vague auditory hallucinations.

I could not even have conceived of writing the story of our quest for Dana without having read Dick Wertime's Citadel on the Mountain several years ago (see "true links" to the right for a sample from the book, or click on the title of this entry to go to Amazon). Citadel is Dick's memoir of growing up with a father who was brilliant, intense, possibly connected to the CIA, and also at times paranoid and delusional. Dick's story is about trying to understand his father (and himself) after his father had died, realizing how much of his own life he did not understand.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Dick in his office at Arcadia University here in the Philadelphia area several years ago. He is a professor of English and writing there. We spent maybe a half hour talking about writing and his book. The intent of the meeting was for him to give me advice on my first novel, Beyond the Will of God (sadly, unpublished). In ten minutes he illustrated five key points of fiction writing that I have taken to heart over the years. We also talked about non-fiction and the memoir as a form. Until that conversation, I had resisted the hype surrounding "creative non-fiction" and New Journalism. I have always admired Mailer, Wolfe, Matthiessen and others capable of exploring real-life in essays and books, but I never saw their "journalism" as art. To me, even serious photography was not art. It approached art, but it was still simply getting lucky by catching a piece o someone's or something's moment.

But Dick turned me around. We discussed the whole idea of what Citadel was about: a sort of detective story, a refitting of the
puzzle pieces of his life after discovering new shapes and new dimensions.

I came away from Dick's office with a greater appreciation then, for the literary quality of non-fiction. (Please understand that I have been a cretin all my adult life and I apologize for this. Although I have been writing since I was eight, I never took an English class or a fiction workshop of any kind after high school).

I'm still not sure where creative non-fiction and memoir fit in the taxonomy of the field of "Litchertchure." I do know, however, that without reading The Citadel on the Mountain, and having the opportunity to listen to Dick's wise counsel, I never would have figured out that I could write this story.

Dr. Wertime will be releasing a new novel soon called San Giovanni.

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