We must write fiction. The truth is unbelievable.
August 20, 2013
I have a grandson who is named for two fictional characters in my books. Well, they are real people with fictional names. I love the confusion. It inspires questions about our history. I even catch myself referring to my family members by their fictional names. I am surprised when readers recognize someone else in a character who is actually based on myself. I cannot decide if I should be flattered or disappointed when that happens. I do know that I enjoy getting to be child, father, grandfather, and even mother when I write. It was cathartic trying to get inside my parents’ and grandparents’ heads during times of crisis as well in ordinary living. Anton Chekhov said, “Any idiot can face a crisis—it is this day-to-day living that wears you out.” I like to read about conflict and tension, but I also like to read about day-to-day living. I like a lot of that interspersed with my action and thrills.
On the back porch, Jake drew water from the cistern and poured some into a wash pan and some into an empty Garrett’s snuff glass…. He removed his toothbrush from the snuff glass and mixed baking soda and salt for toothpaste. As he brushed, Griffin Rivers and Buddy came through the pasture gate. Griffin rode Buddy all the way to the back porch and relaxed in the saddle while his grandson rinsed and spat over the shelf into the yard.
This scene, of course, is not filled with tension, but it shows a little slice of the characters’ daily lives.
Real characters and fictional ones definitely blur, but what about events? Same thing. Few who lived in Delta County during the fifties will fail to recognize a scene in Rivers Crossing in which a young girl drowns in a cistern. I first wrote the scene exactly as it happened because it occurred less than a mile from my childhood home, and I was at the scene that terrible day. However, the editing process required me to change it because the truth was so unbelievable. For those of you who have read Rivers Crossing and those of you who will, two people died in that cistern on that awful day—not one.
Have people challenged me about changing that? I expected many readers to help me out with the real facts. I have received many e-mails and letters about this part of the book—even several phone calls, but not one challenge. People who lived there during this time seem to intuitively know that I am aware of what really happened. Other readers are left with a believable story. Many have written me about their own recollections of the day and night it happened, including a future physician who was on the scene with his physician father. I do not believe this event has been recorded for history anywhere other than in local newspapers at the time. Is it harmed because the story I wrote is not factual? You decide.
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