top of page

Sorting it out on paper


In my last blog, I raised the question of how it is possible for fiction to reveal more truth than non-fiction--how things that never happened can be made to feel more real than, well, reality.

While acknowledging that I have no answer, my working hypothesis is rooted in a writer’s need to explore those things which he or she are driven to understand but, for an assortment of reasons, cannot yet comprehend. Why then, you might ask, would a person write instead of doing medical research? Or become an astrophysicist? There are millions of things we don’t understand about medicine, the human organism, the formation of the universe, etc. If the writer’s compulsion comes from a lack of understanding, why not try to understand those things?

Because they lack an emotional and psychological component. Writers are often designated as “right-brain” types, more prone to creativity and less inclined toward logic, numbers and critical thinking. To take a simple illustration, take two people sitting in Houston, Texas. One is a woman, a writer, and the other is a man who works in the space program. The man’s job is to calculate the precise orbit of a manned spacecraft to enable it to dock with the international space station. He does not care what is going through the astronaut's mind, whether the pilot is happy in his marriage, or whether a severely ill child at home is diverting the astronaut’s attention, all of which engage the writer sitting at her desk a few miles away. Put the space program employee at the writer’s desk, and he will stare at a blank page for hours. Put the writer at his desk in the Johnson Space Center, and the manned spacecraft will miss the international space station by two million miles.

But, you will observe, the two people in the example have been trained to do their respective jobs. The woman has an MFA and the man a Ph.D. True, but their underlying inspirations drove them to those degrees, and those degrees incorporated their respective interests.

There is another component of the woman’s inquiry that is lacking in the man’s. She will want to confront the moral choices facing the astronaut--should he have gone on this mission with his marriage teetering, a sick child at home, and his attention diverted? Did his decision imperil the rest of the crew?

For some writers, and I suppose that includes me, moral, ethical and personal dilemmas sometimes require 400 pages to sort out. I confronted such dilemmas in writing A Southern Girl. I loved my boys, loved my wife, and loved my parents. How much of my initial resistance to the adoption stemmed from unwillingness to upset my folks? Was that really it, or did my heart-of-hearts fear I would not be able to embrace a child unrelated to me by blood or heritage like I embraced my sons? Wasn’t the best way to avoid that risk to stop the adoption before there was ever a child identified with it--before that photo and dossier arrived from Korea?

Of course, by the time I wrote the book, I had landed safely on the far shore of most of these concerns. I embraced her as I had embraced my boys, and at times a little more so. Why? Because daughters are special to dads, for one. Second, I knew the odds she had overcome to get to us, and I admired her for beating those odds. From the safety of the far shore, the writer can ask “what if,” and often that leads to a novel worth reading.

But even the worthiest novel needs a publisher, and how this one came to be published by Story River Books is the topic for the next blog.

bottom of page