“We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection.”—Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin
Everyone loves a great story. Once the story grabs us, we want to know more: what happened, how did it happen, who, when, where, why? Now, make that a true story and the level of fascination amps up exponentially. When art imitates life, it’s a gift that keeps on giving. New facts might come to light. More witnesses might come forward. Over the years the story evolves. That’s why I love historical fiction: War and Peace, Gone With the Wind, The Devil in the White City, to name just three.
Some authors write non-fiction only. I asked my friend, a world-renowned expert in Edwardian-era literature, when he would write his own novel. He gave me that deer-in-the-headlights look and said that his brain just doesn’t work that way. Other writers stick to pure fiction, happy to refer back to their own first-hand experiences, free from the tedium of excess research. But, real life underlies all good writing. Otherwise it won’t ring true.
Going the Extra Mile
Granted, writing historical fiction requires fastidious fact checking and footnotes. But if you write what you know you’re halfway there. For example, Vanity Fair investigative journalist Dominick Dunne re-crafted his fact-based articles into novels. American John Grisham and Brit Ian Fleming with their combined years of political, military, legal and spy experience turned in some of the most riveting fiction.
When art imitates life in literature, not only do we benefit from their masterful retelling of great stories, but we also learn stuff. We get a second chance to relive the moment, to figure out what happened, to make vital connections between the past, present and future. The new TV show, Timeless, does a brilliant job of linking past and present, cause and effect. In the current climate of seemingly global chaos, there are moments in Timeless that give the impression the world actually makes sense. As my screenwriter friend said, writing let’s you play God. For me, at least with historical fiction, I can try to understand God.
These moments of metaphysical connection, however fleeting, can be comforting. So, it was heartwarming and thrilling to read the latest review of my novel Foliage by the excellent Chicago film critic, Patrick McDonald. In his review he writes, “[Foliage] is a reminder of The Devil in the White City, as it gives a mind blowing history lesson on high finance and banking from the era that resonates to even our most recent banking problems.”
Seeing Foliage in the same sentence as one of the greatest contemporary novels has inspired me to keep writing more and better. Book Two of the Louise Moscow Novel Series is underway. Thank you Patrick, you get me.