Novels are life, partly fact and partly fiction.

The mythical town of Winesburg, Ohio, drawn from the author's imagination.
The mythical town of Winesburg, Ohio, drawn from the author’s imagination.

I have lived in cities.

I have fought the traffic.

I have battled the crowds.

Didn’t like it.

Don’t want to go back.

Personally, I prefer Small Town America.

Little towns are distinctive.

The ones I like are off the beaten path.

They are self-sufficient or should be.

And an odd assortment of people walk their streets.


Or sunny.

Out of sight.

Or in plain daylight.

It doesn’t matter.

Each of them has a story to tell.

They may not want it told until they die.

It may be the reason why they die.

Small towns think they have their secrets, but almost everyone knows what the secrets are. By mid-morning, everybody knows who did what to whom and why – and how much money or sex was involved.

Small towns are partly fact and partly fiction, and somewhere through the years, the lines began to blur.

That’s why so many great novels have been written in or about small towns.

They are full of love.

And love lost.

They are full of hate.

And sardonic smiles that say, “I know but you don’t,” never realizing you may have known it first. You may have even started the rumor.

They are smitten by greed.

And jealousy.


And revenge.

We know them even if we have never met them.

They are our neighbors.

They are us.

winesburgohio_coverNo one ever captured the spirit and soul of Small Town America as well as Sherwood Anderson in his Winesburg, Ohio, a collection of short stories featuring an array of of people who, by fate or fortune, both good and bad, have chosen reside in the small Midwestern village. When cleverly woven together, their lives become the stuff of an unforgettable novel.

In his books and short stories, Anderson never emphasized plot or action.

Instead, according to one critic, he used “a simple, precise, unsentimental style to reveal the frustration, loneliness, and longing in the lives of his characters.”

His voice was unmistakable, and his writing greatly influenced and served as a guidepost for the works of William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, and Thomas Wolfe.

Anderson knew that all good novels were tied together with a little fact and a little fiction. Only imagination knew the difference.

Fact sounded like fiction.

Fiction becames fact.

Imagination made them both real and believable.

The reader never knew which was which, nor did the reader care.

Anderson once wrote: “The life of reality is confused, disorderly, almost always without apparent purpose where in the artist’s imaginative life there is purpose. There is determination to give the tale, the song, the painting, form – to make it true and real to the theme, not to life …

“I myself remember – with what a shock – I heard people say that one of my own books, Winesburg, Ohio, was an exact picture of Ohio village life.”
Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

As Anderson wrote: “The book was written in a crowded tenement district of Chicago. The hint for almost every character was taken from my fellow lodgers in a large rooming house, many of whom had never lived in a village.

“The confusion arises out of the fact that others beside practicing artists have imagination. But most people are afraid to trust their imaginations, and the artist is not.”

That, when it’s all said and done, may be the secret of great writing.

Find a little fact.

Let your mind spill out a little fiction.

Work them together.

Figure out a hook.

Then trust your imagination.

And let’s see where it leads you.


Please click the book cover image to read more about Caleb Pirtle III and his novels. Deadline News is about a small town and its secrets during the oil boom of the 1930s.

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  • “most people are afraid to trust their imaginations, and the artist is not.”

    What a perfect quote to start the writing day with. If you could see the journals worth of fear, the doubt, the self-criticism… Most of it overcome, most of the time, but fear lies in wait for weak moments, and strikes afresh.

    Is something too raw, too revealing, too dangerous to put out under my name some day? That is the thing in the darkness that can only be overcome by taking a step out on the plank anyway.

    Ralph Keyes wrote a book called The Courage to Write. He has a lot of good things to say. I had to laugh: he said he doesn’t have the guts to write fiction. Good non-fiction is important; good fiction is art. Which is why so many journalists write that they’ve always wanted to write fiction.

    I work at it – I write the fear down. I talk back to it, even when it returns. I write anyway. I think of all the great books like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games or …, the ones that got lots of people reading, and I realize they’re not perfect. I don’t have to be perfect, either, but I do have to overcome the fear, and trust that imagination, and try.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Alicia: I find that when I try to force a story to work, it never does. If I turn the story over to my imagination and simply follow where it goes, the story almost always turns out okay.

      • Can’t work that way – I’d be a disastrous pantser for anything over about 1500 words (all my brain will produce in one chunk at one sitting). My short stories come out that way – all of a whoosh.

        Pride’s Children is plotted to within a millimeter, always has been. There are so many interconnecting pieces it would drive me crazy otherwise.

        I trust the instincts that answered the Dramatica questions so long ago and formalized all those connections – and then I let loose around that solid structure: every room in the shining tower with the glass frontage is personalized inside, identical on the outside. And the longer I go, the better it seems to work.

        Everyone finds the right way to write – and it’s different from everyone else’s. I would NOT recommend my method to anyone – I actually try to steer people away. But for me, with this brain, it has allowed me to write.

        To each his/her own, eh?

  • Darlene Jones

    “The truth is stranger than fiction.” Or at least, that’s what my mother always said.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Most times, truth is fiction.

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