You Can’t Take It To The Bank

To paraphrase Mr. Lincoln, can you can expect a fiction writer to not tell the truth all of the time, some of the time, or none of the time? Or would you agree to the corollary of the second, that a fiction writer might tell the truth some of the time?

Perhaps, to answer that, one needs to define “truth,” insofar as it applies to collections of words. There is that adage that one should never believe anything heard and only half of what is seen. My protagonist Penelope Summers would agree with the truth of the adage. After all, she’s been a public relations lackey for several years and knows the difference between advertising and reality. And grown tired of what she calls the “public relations tango,” by which she probably means dancing around the truth.

Are poems true? What about memoirs? History books? Murder mysteries? Can we agree that writers, in general, tell the truth as they see it? At least in the context of their collections of words. Some mystery, science fiction, and fantasy writers create entire worlds, cultures, languages, and customs for their characters to inhabit. Others, like yours truly, feel comfortable creating a story in a real place, as in Asheville, North Carolina, adding fictional elements as needed for the purposes of the story. You certainly wouldn’t want me to set a murder mystery in your town and have the victim poisoned in a real restaurant that you visit regularly. The owner of that restaurant might get somewhat upset by my suggestion that the chef therein had a murderous streak, even if the story developed that the poison was actually added to the soup du jour by the victim’s cousin’s half brother-in-law. You can envision the legal entanglements using that restaurant’s real name might involve for an unwary author.

Do you prefer stories about real places? And would you enjoy a story set, for instance, in Annapolis Maryland, which has an antique State House and a real town just across Spa Creek called Eastport, but uses fictional addresses for drug wholesalers and a fictional pizza place where a drug sting goes down? If you visited that restaurant on the day of the sting, you might have seen two pizza boxes leaving the place. One full of cash, the other a bit heavier with a brick of cocaine.

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