• Sometimes Apologize, Sometimes Explain

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Inspiration     Comments 5 comments

    by Jason Hinojosa

    Not everyone liked my book.

    And I don’t just mean that it got mixed reviews, although that happened too. I mean that my brother couldn’t finish reading what I wrote. I mean that my mom said it was “too private.” I mean that my girlfriend finished the book and started to cry.

    As long as I’ve been writing, I’ve understood that a writer’s most significant task is to write without fear. And by the time I began work on what would be my first published novel, I’d started doing that. I’d started writing without fear. Or rather, I’d started writing despite fear.

    My first novel, The Last Lawsons, is about a family. It’s about a family that self-destructs, and it’s about the reasons why. It’s about incest, abuse, adultery, and murder. And it’s scary to write about familial evil. It’s scary to write about dark fantasies and still darker expressions of desire. But I did. I dug into the soil of my subconscious, even though some of that soil was crowded with bones.

    I didn’t write an autobiography, but by the time The Last Lawsons was published, I realized that it didn’t really matter. I’m sure a true and horrible story would’ve created a greater stir–we are most horrified by genuine monsters–but I realized that even thinking of monsters is in itself an admission of monstrosity. In some ways, maybe it’s worse.

    Understand, I’m not questioning anyone’s repulsion. I wrote honestly, but I chose to focus on the ugliness of miscommunication and the bitter loneliness of guilt and grief. The Last Lawsons is a sad and difficult book. My question is–even though I still believe artistic integrity is paramount–whether or not I wrote what was best to write.

    Because there’s a tendency to equate what is fearful with what is true. Especially as a young writer, I believed that my most disturbing stories were my best. And as a young writer, I needed to believe that. I needed to allow myself to step into the dark corners of my storytelling mind, and describe what I discovered there; as a young writer, I needed to allow myself to write without censorship, to wander, and to feel the squeezing chill of deep-seated fear. Above all, I needed to learn what it meant to discover something horrific, and write anyway.

    But after a time, I started to feel a creative shift. I had proved it: I could set down in private prose the things that I might not dare express in public speech. I could write despite my fear.

    What more was left to do?

    Writing what is true–writing what is best–extends beyond what is fearful, private, or ugly. The most meaningful stories are not simply those we are afraid to tell. The most meaningful stories do indeed incorporate that which troubles us; they examine our willful failures, our indignities, and the shameful dilemmas that busy our minds and cause our trembling hands to stall. They include human ugliness, but as a part of a redeemable whole. In other words, the best stories may indeed horrify us, but they instruct us as well. And that is not the same as moralistic pedantry; most of the best stories instruct inexplicitly, and many instruct by negation. And–I propose, after having perhaps stumbled over a story in which knowable goodness is expressed too obliquely–the best stories make us better somehow for having read them.

    Because otherwise, storytelling is just a game. Otherwise, writing is just an exercise in rebellion, cleverness, or shock.

    My project–and I am young at this–is to inspire my readers. And I will caution others and myself against the folly of doing so in a superficial way. Genuine inspiration must rise up from that same subconscious soil into which I once dug; it must admit of bones, but ultimately it must also push up flowers from the dirt.

    My project and my hope is to create stories that will not hurt or deflate or diminish the people I love–and the noblest part of me extends that love to each of my readers–but will instead inspire, honor, and heal them.

    Of course, my brother’s squeamishness may always remain. My mother may never want me to chronicle family dysfunction. And surely my girlfriend will cry again.

    It’s true that the added nuance of emulable virtue will not satisfy every reader, and many readers will balk at an explicit phrasing of hope. In fact, nothing at all will satisfy everyone. But as writers, we may be more deeply pleased and more completely accomplished if we express not only that which makes us afraid, but that which moves us beyond fear, and that which–mysteriously and joyfully–makes us better for having written.


    Jason Hinojosa recently moved from Austin to Los Angeles, and is currently teaching at Brentwood School. In the last decade, he has lived and worked in Hong Kong, India, and Rwanda. Jason is the author of The Last Lawsons, and his next book–a novella titled The Conception of Zachary Muse–is slated for publication in June 2013.



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    Bobbi Frels

    Thanks for writing this! I love your writing style and this is very helpful to read.

    Sam Hai

    You’re tapping into your conscientiousness–half of it at least. I have not read your book yet, but I think you’ll find at least three other people who have polar opposite reactions than that of your family–passionate fervor in support of your writing, and protective fury for real victims of familial atrocities. You created two things for your readers what many writers wish they can do: controversy and dialogue. If it’s your mission to inspire, those two things are crucial. If this is you’re first book, you’re off to a great start. Keep up the good work sir. You may build… Read more »

    Cynthia Hinojosa

    To be clear, I am very proud as a mother of this book and accomplishment. The discipline, examination, and desire to relay a family as recalled by each member was quite an undertaking, and written masterfully.

    I’m all for chronicling family dysfunction – one of the universal realities that weaves us all together. I particularly relish the redemptive and forgiving aspects of storytelling – those things that give us all hope and help us realize we are all a collective family, with power to love.

    Good work, hijo.


    I love the idea of plumbing the depths of fear and horror for creativity and story. And I think that it’s easy to tell when an author has done that merely for shock value, and when they’ve done it to honestly tell a story that couldn’t have been told otherwise. While your book wasn’t for me in genre, I think it was clear that you were working from the latter motivation. I’m also always amused that many readers take “write what you know” to mean that all works are autobiographical to some extent. I’ve seen it lead to some very… Read more »

    H Leung

    We, as readers, are thankful to authors who do the brave and dirty work of digging deep into their subconsciousness, so that we can read about the characters’ dark fantasies, guilt, and shame–and confront our own. It takes guts to write horrible things, because people might think that only a diseased mind could produce diseased subjects. But who cares about that! Some people probably still think Nabokov is a paedophile, but most of us just see him as a literary genius. I think it makes you more intriguing because you dug and found beautifully grotesque imagery, irreversibly hurtful miscommunications, and… Read more »

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