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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