Here’s my take on truth in fiction: a guest article I wrote for The Crime Writers’ Chronical
This business about truth is confusing. Novels should be truer than life? Heightened reality? I spent my early working life as a daily journalist, and truth was truth and facts were facts. And anyone who strayed from that was soon on the carpet, or more likely out the door. Or should I say, anyone who got caught. So when I began struggling to write my first novel – set in Vietnam, of all places – I did one whale of a lot of research. I didn’t have to research the main character’s dilemma: She was a journalist in the late 1960s trying to prove to the all-male cast of characters that she could do the work. I’d been there done that, all I had to do was teach myself about Vietnam and the “American” war. And as I got rejection after rejection on my early novelistic attempts, I couldn’t grasp the meaning behind the comments.
They all were a variation on the same theme: The setting, the characters were mesmerizing, spellbinding, couldn’t-put-it-downable. So why didn’t they want to buy my book? Because the story didn’t work.
I had a hard row to hoe, to figure out how one makes fiction real, breathing of life, yet … what’s that extra magic ingredient?