As If It Really Happened

My post on Tuesday about writers badmouthing each other behind their backs, and my recollections of my (now late) novelist uncle’s writing life among such people, led me to pull up an excerpt from one of my books in which I mention the fictionalized “him.” Doing so caused me to recall that 2015 novel he sadly never saw. I have always liked and been intrigued by that lucky 1996 photo I snapped, which was why it ended up on this cover:

[Distances: Atlantic Lives, 1996-1997. Paperback covers. Click to expand.]

Not long after that post, I put in my Instagram Stories this “artsy” version I had made a while ago with some photo app:

[An artistically embellished version of what may be a familiar picture – from the cover of a certain novel. Photo by me, Paris, France, 1996.]

I have never discovered the identity of the music-video-making woman singer, mid-photo, in white, standing on the platform, looking down to her right, her face now obscured by her hair. She had moments before been lip-synching to a song coming from the fold back speakers in front of her. The language in which was she singing was not French or English, nor any other that I had recognized.

All of that writing stuff bouncing around in my mind, when I saw this tweet yesterday I felt I wanted to reply to it (which I rarely do) in order to drop in my “two cents” – which is a literal fact with which some writers cope: earning about “two cents.” It was a tweeter raising the issue of if you could write as your full time job, would you? I had thought (again) on my uncle’s twenty-five or so years’ experience as a self-supporting author and I felt I should point this out to the #writingcommunity:

I do believe that is accurate. Try to name an author who has made it “big” in the last century during their own lifetime who has NOT had at least one book/story adapted for film or television. Frankly, I am hard-pressed to think of anyone.

I have also spent time over the last few days doing more writing of the next planned novel – tapping away as I brainstorm, liking some bits, and hating others, deleting, changing, thinking I should slightly alter a new character’s nationality to part Hungarian, and occasionally berating myself for even attempting a third such heavily historical tale with all the work it entails, has all been part of the glorious authoring mix. Likely a film or Netflix adaptation is what I need? LOL!

When you write, particularly sequels, you always need to think back as well as forward. I found myself pausing to re-read parts of what I have already written in my most recent book in order to avoid several embarrassing continuity and other mistakes:

[Excerpt from Tomorrow The Grace. Paperback version. Copyright, 2019. Click to expand.]

I had over the decades read far more non-fiction and historical fiction than “fantasy”… and I know that has made its mark on me. I write fiction as if it really happened. Much as my uncle once had said to me: “Fiction comes from fact, and lots of fact makes great fiction when you re-write it as fiction.”

However, I firmly believe no historical fiction writer should ever do this. We just finished watching the Netflix production Hollywood. Set ostensibly in the late-1940s, it went early on from being arguably reasonably historical in its use of certain once living people to, by the final episode, descending into fantasy and, as one reviewer aptly termed it, “wish fulfillment.”

Indeed one scene in the last episode that epitomized that latter was when a fictional black actress who is nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her starring role in a romantic film opposite a white leading man (I will not here go into that historical absurdity), is stopped by an usher as she is about to enter the event. Suddenly “2020” sensibilities kick in (even more so possibly than previously). As she stands before the usher she declares she will go inside and take her seat in the front row or she will yell “Fire” and create chaos and empty the building just as the gala is about to begin.

After a pause meekly the usher steps aside and satisfyingly she walks by him. Gosh, who knew? All real-life Hattie McDaniel needed to have done, in the face of such actual segregation and discrimination in the real 1940 when she won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, was that?

If you desire to write a “How our world might be had the past not been the past…” authoring statement, do NOT use real people from that past and potentially mislead readers/viewers. Keep historical figures within the zone of the historically accurate. For one, I did that with my (now late) uncle’s portrayal: Part of why I did NOT use his real name is because some of what happens with him is outright invented and he was a real person. There is the line: If you want to get all artistic and opinionated and make stuff up well beyond what we know with a good degree of historical certainty, that’s fine, but just don’t call those characters Rock Hudson, Vivien Leigh, and Hattie McDaniel, but perhaps instead “Rod Harbor,” “Vanessa Lee,” and “Helen McJohnson,” so you do NOT mess with the real people’s lives and their actual histories.

Speaking of film and television, this 1869 historical novel has been produced many times on those twentieth century mediums since their inventions. (I must admit, the 2007 one is my favorite.) Such never actually helped its author, of course, as neither existed when he lived. Leaving that aside, if you write, and if you ever feel a sense of despair about how good you are, and as if what you write will never be good enough, just remember…

[From War And Peace, by Leo Tolstoy, 1869.]

…even the best of them can produce sentences like that one. LOL!

Have a good weekend, wherever you are (still under some form of lockdown) in the world. 🙂