I believe, as a writer of fiction, that whatever I write, regardless of how close an account it is to a real event, it remains, for all intents and purposes, fiction. Now that’s a very broad and some might argue, indefensible statement. How can the reader discern the fact from the fiction, for example?

There is a contradiction inherent in all fiction writing. One one hand, the novice writer is encouraged to stick to what they know and are passionate about and then, write about that or, at least, draw their inspiration from that well. post1

On the other hand, a writer must never get too close or emotional to their own writing since their task, and duty, to the reader, is to help them suspend their disbelief and doubt and find their own ‘truth’ in the fiction they’re reading.

Fiction, the noun, according to most dictionaries, is ‘literature in the form of prose, especially novels or short stories, that describes imaginary events and people.’ Such a definition might exclude the ‘fictional’ works of half the world’s greatest writers, I think.

Few can doubt the fictional nature of Kurt Vonnegut Jr’s Slaughterhouse Five, surely, since it relates a story of alien abduction and an alien race called The Tralfamadorians.
At the same time, the hero of the story, Billy Pilgrim, is a young American soldier who, like Vonnegut, survives the bombing of Dresden because he was working, as a POW, in an underground meat locker. Pilgrim, however, unlike the author, begins to experience life out of sequence, frequently revisiting scenes. He also meets the Tralfamadorians along the way.five1

Could James Joyce have conjured Leopold Bloom from his imagination or any of the other central and incidental characters who populate Ulysses or his book of short stories, Dubliners, had he not been an inhabitant and keen observer of the denizens of his own native city?

I think not and I’m sure there are characters in many novels who may cause some disquiet in the lives of real people and acquaintances of the authors.

James Lee Burke, one of my all time favourite authors, frequently draws his characters from his personal experience.

Burke is a multi-award winning writer of crime mysteries, best known for his novels involving Dave Robicheaux, some time deputy sheriff of New Iberia parish in Louisiana, full time recovering alcoholic and former NOPD homicide detective. He’s also written a series involving first, Hackberry Holland, recovering alcoholic and former Congressional candidate, Texas Ranger and public defender turned sheriff of a small, dusty town on the rim of the Tex-Mex border and then his brother, Billy Bob Holland, a public defender and environmental champion, transplanted from Texas to Montana.

He’s also published a number of historical novels set in the American civil war and all written from a Confederate army perspective.

His observations are panoramic and insightful, always erudite and frequently painful in their honesty. Just what you’d expect from a man with an alcoholic and academic past who has worked as a teacher, a journalist, an oil worker and among down and outs in Los Angeles’ skid row and who grew up in Louisiana and now lives in Montana.

Read the Introduction to ‘The Convict and Other Stories.’ It’s called Jailhouses, English Departments and Electric Chairs. It is a revelation for any aspiring writer that nothing is guaranteed or written in stone, except the writer’s own unquenchable thirst to write.

‘Jolie Blon’s Bounce’, one of Burke’s most highly acclaimed and successful novels in the Dave Robicheaux series, was turned down more than 100 times before it finally found a publisher.jolie1

I spent more than twenty years working as a journalist when the essential imperative, both legal and moral, was to ensure, as far as we could,
what we wrote was factual and truthful.

An author has a different objective. It may be their intention to inform; they may desire to entertain but, in my estimation, their real task is to alter the reader’s point of view. I don’t mean ‘opinion’; I mean, literally, point of view.

If a writer can give the reader the facility to see something from the point of view of a different person, of another age, another race, even another gender; then they’ve suspended their disbelief and achieved their own goal.

A popular novelist once told me a very personal story about himself that, while not doing anything wrong, made him look, well, gullible and human and not the worldly wise author of crime fiction he was.

He was aware of my role as a journalist but he gave me the story. There was drink taken, I must admit, but the story subsequently appeared in a newspaper. The author was appalled and, frankly, outraged. He never denied it nor did he seek legal redress, as one might expect he would.steve1

Instead, a character appeared in one of his subsequent novels, bearing my name, complete with two ‘ts’. That character was a dog, a friendly, if rather dozy golden retriever, if memory serves and its owner bore the name of the third person who witnessed my conversation with the author and his revelations.

What you write becomes fiction when you set it in print, if that is your intent and design. It is the reader who must decide if it’s worth reading.

A writer will find inspiration anywhere. They have to look and see, that’s all. Then they have to write.


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