Ever since I knew I was going to be a writer, which was at least as early as age twelve or thirteen, I became aware of myself as a character–as a persona that I could shape and develop, but not completely control (after all, genes and other circumstances have some say in the matter). Borges, Updike, Atwood, and many other writers have talked about the split in the mind between the author and the real self, the one out in the world doing things about which the author writes. As the author, we assume distance, assume impartiality. When one writes about oneself, there is always this tension. Even when I’m not writing about myself, I am writing about myself. In characters like Billy Wayne Carter, Patrick Alexander, and Robert Peregrine, I’ve used facets of myself, or my conception of myself as a character, and melded them with facets of other people.
This can be dangerous. The persona of M. David Hornbuckle that has been shaped and developed by the author M. David Hornbuckle can sometimes lead astray the M. David Hornbuckle that lives in the world and has to have a job and relationships with people. There have been situations where I have asked myself “What would M. David Hornbuckle do right now?” Which M. David Hornbuckle would that be? Sometimes my decisions in those situations have had very bad consequences because, in some incarnations, M. David Hornbuckle is not a nice person; he is selfish and irresponsible and needy and unsure of himself. In other incarnations, he is patient and charitable to a fault and lets other people take advantage of how much he is willing to give of himself.
Who is M. David Hornbuckle the person, as opposed to M. David Hornbuckle the author? He is a teacher and a student. He is a bad poet and a mediocre guitarist. He is an expert at saying something awkward about you to a third party just as you walk into the room. He is not very good at eating leftovers. He is a certified bartender who has never worked as a bartender. He is prone to impulsive and erratic behavior. He likes noisy music and wears noisy shirts. If you ask him what the M stands for he’ll tell you it stands for Mississippi–Mississippi David Hornbuckle, like the 80-year old blues man that he sometimes thinks he is on the inside. He is lying to you right now.