Mixing facts and fiction…

No, I’m not talking about Trump’s moaning about “fake news,” much of which he or his Russian friends create (Trump’s lies total 1145 at last count). My title relates to the idea that good fiction mixes in facts with the fiction in such a way that the reader either thinks the fiction is real or at least seems to be real.

One thing that impressed me about Forsyth’s novel The Day of the Jackal was that events surrounding the Algerian War (the facts) smoothly became an assassination plot against De Gaulle (the fiction). Forsyth, an excellent journalist, obviously could report facts, but he made his fiction seem just as real.

That’s something to emulate. I try to do so in every story, even in my sci-fi stories. The reader knows the latter aren’t real, of course, but if s/he reacts to the prose as if it were real or could be, s/he will have a more entertaining experience.

Forsyth’s theme was the bitterness surrounding the Algerian War. Disgruntled French soldiers were mad at De Gaulle for giving Algeria its independence, if I remember correctly. Themes in fiction are what makes fiction seem fact—in other words, real-world themes make fiction seem real. That might be obvious for near-current stories like Angels Need Not Apply (drug trafficking), Teeter-Totter between Lust and Murder (illegal arms trafficking), and The Collector (sex trafficking), to name a few of my mystery and thriller books, but it’s also true for sci-fi books More than Human: The Mensa Contagion (exploration of and colonies on Mars) and Rogue Planet (brutal theocracies).

I’ve written about “themes” in my many posts about writing. Stephen King implied in his book On Writing that themes aren’t important—I guess that’s why I can’t enjoy many of his books. I’ll be blunt: novelists who avoid themes so as not to offend anyone are cowardly. Sure, you can write a mystery, thriller, or sci-fi story without any serious themes, but I probably won’t like it very much as an avid reader, I’ll be reluctant to review it even more, and I’ll certainly won’t emulate it as a writer.

Fiction must be a blend of serious themes and a great story about seemingly real characters who react and relate to those interwoven themes. The themes cannot be trivial either. Ones in most romances and horror stories are if they exist. I don’t object to a wee bit of X meets Y and they have an affair, but if that’s it, my reactions are ho-hums and yawns. Same for blood and gore and nothing more (King’s oeuvre).

I respect an author who takes a theme and writes a great story to surround it. Yeah, that takes courage—the writer is sure to offend some readers who treat fiction as escapist pablum to turn off their minds. I’m not that kind of reader, and I don’t write for that kind of reader. Maybe many readers are looking for that mind-numbing escape. Fine. To each her or his own. Reading tastes are subjective anyway, and readers have a wide variety of books to choose from. For every writer like me, there are probably ten (maybe more?) who don’t have any themes at all in their books so they don’t run the risk of offending anyone. My writing is an example of the following Cyril Connolly quote: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than write for the public and have no self.”

Yes, reading tastes are subjective, but I’m one avid reader who reads to turn my mind on, not off. Of course, I also want to be entertained. It might seem I’m asking for a lot. Maybe so in today’s publishing world, but I don’t think I’m the only reader who feels this way. And authors can reach such readers by including interesting themes to make their fiction seem like fact.


Rembrandt’s Angel (Penmore Press). How far would you go to recover a missing masterpiece? Have great fun this fall reading about the adventures of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone and her paramour/sidekick, Interpol agent Bastiann van Coevorden. Esther becomes obsessed with recovering Rembrandt’s “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a painting stolen by the Nazis for Hitler’s museum. The crime-fighting duo goes after the painting and those currently possessing the painting, but the whole caper becomes much more dangerous as they uncover a conspiracy that threatens the security of Europe. With all the danger, their budding romance becomes full-blown. This book is available as an ebook on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, and Apple, and also as a print book from Amazon and your local bookstore (if they don’t have it, ask for them to order it). Check out the review and interview at Feathered Quill.

In libris libertas!

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