Oh, behave! I’m not being nearly as scandalous as the title of this guest post would suggest. The “F” word to which I’m referring is “Fact,” and its use in fiction can be just as challenging, just as brow-raising, as the dirty word you likely thought I meant.
My fiction has been described as “psychological and thoughtful” by Midwest Book Review, my characters as “flawed and believable, yet familiar” by Publishers Weekly. One book review blogger recently wrote: “Martin has created characters so real, so rich in character that you know in your heart that these character(s) must be real.”
And these are just the comments of strangers, of persons who do not personally know me or who know nothing of my past, present, or future. The comments and questions that roll in from those in the know are even more loaded.
“Wow, I never knew you felt that way,” said one friend.
“I’m glad you finally got it all out,” said a distant family relation.
“I have to ask,” posed my publisher, “is this based on your own life?”
To date, I’ve published two titles of contemporary fiction—“in wake of water,” released Nov. 2011; and, “pig,” released June 2012. In addition to the rich character development noted by various sources, both books have in common the fact that they touch on touchy topics, very real and very disturbing possibilities in the human condition.
“In wake of water” centers on a female lead who contemplates suicide following the losses of her immediate family members. Her tendencies are counterbalanced by a male lead who greatly fears death, life, and living. As the story unfolds, small-town secrets are revealed in a thought-provoking tome of sex, deception, ignorance, and guilt.
Honored as a Second Prize Quarterfinalist in the 2012 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Contest, my second novel, “pig” also discusses death and loss, among other ostensible themes. “Pig” is the story of Lily, a troubled woman seated at her husband’s funeral, whose life is recalled in a tensely tense-shifting narrative of domestic abuse, adultery, alcoholism, motherhood, and redemption.
As my fiction focuses on humans (rather than otherworldly creatures such as vampires, werewolves, or cyborgs) and explores very real human scenarios (as opposed to things such as time travel, mind control, and immortality), it instantly raises questions among readers. And, when those readers take a look at my extended bio, the questions keep coming.
My mother passed away in 1999. My sister, my only sibling, died in 2001. My father keeled over in 2003. All one has to do is read the first page of “in wake of water” to see these facts mirrored in my fiction. The question then becomes, “Does it stop there?”
Yes and No. Quite simply, these facts were brought into my fiction because they are compelling. They are the stuff that makes for a good read, the stuff that makes a work not only readable but also relatable.
Indeed, we write what we know, but we also write what we don’t know, what we want to know, and what we can never know. My true story, alone, without fabrication or exaggeration, is not exceptional. What makes it exceptional is the way that my fact is intertwined with the purely fictitious, or supplemented by fact found elsewhere in this world.
Carrying over into “pig,” one then wonders if the next chapter of my reality was laden with abuse, alcoholism, adultery, and other “A” words. Sure. A little here. A little there. But nothing in “pig” is fact in its entirety. Again, it’s the compelling stuff that makes for a good story. A curly hair of truth beneath a fake wig that’s tidy.
I am reminded of the disclaimer that accompanies most works of fiction these days—that little blurb on the copyright page that mentions how any resemblance of the forthcoming story to persons, places, or things, whether of fact or of fiction, is purely unintentional. And as I am reminded of this, I remind my reader of this, too.
Something may sound familiar, but that doesn’t mean it is. Something may sound factual, but that doesn’t mean it is. Something may sound unbelievable, but it may be that very thing which is most true.
Were I to write a work of fiction about an African American President of the United States of America, that would not mean that the novel was about President Obama. Were I to write about a disease that killed people indiscriminate of any identifiable factor or predisposition, that would not mean that the novel was about Cancer. So too when I write about a gal who lost her entire family, or a lady who liked to booze it up, that does not mean these works are about me, though they may seem to imitate my intimate.
My biggest goal in writing is to have my words invoke thoughts and feelings in my reader, and, for that reason, I often write of those things that invoke thought and feeling in my own mind. If it works on me, it’s my hope that it’ll work on my readers.
I don’t think, by the way, that this is something one could escape entirely just by writing in other subgenres of fiction, or by creating more ethereal characters. Who among us has not been ensnarled by the beautiful eyes of a vampire, or haunted by the isolationist tendencies of any other nonhuman? Who hasn’t been perplexed by the twin paradox? These things too invoke in us something that their authors surely intended to stir. They just aren’t subjected to the same level of “fact v. fiction” scrutiny because of their very premises.
The novel I’m currently writing has much to do with murder. I’m hoping that my friends, family, and followers don’t soon question whether I am, in fact, a murderer. But, then again, would this query be any more absurd than the ones asked following my first two novels? Are we not each of us, at one point or another, cast into a spot of murderous inclination, just as we are cast into moments of despair and desperation?
Author, sbr martin
“Pig” and “in wake of water” are available for purchase and lending on Amazon, accessible through my author profile at http://amazon.com/author/sbrmartin.
Rate/review me on goodreads at http://goodreads.com/sbrmartin.
Media inquiries and/or general queries can be sent directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In : Guest Posts
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