Writer’s Cocktail

Tell a little truth with many lies
It’s the only way I’ve found

— Dio, “Straight Through the Heart”

No matter how far out in space your story is set, or how alien your fantasy world, your reader needs a touchstone of reality to identify with. The question, though, especially for those not creating completely new worlds, is just how much truth to tell with the lies?

In my werewolf novel Shara, for instance, I mixed in a fair amount of truth. The description of Enid High School’s 1984 junior/senior prom is pretty accurate. The Race Track Motel really exists (or did), Shara’s initials are the same as mine and at her age I was about as shy as she was in the beginning. There are other things in the book that are real, some more personal, some less so.

I can’t speak for her, but when Carrie Jones and I wrote After Obsession I again mixed in a lot of truth. The chapters written from Alan’s point of view that describe the high school setting are rooms and hallways from the high school where I work. Several of the minor characters are based on people who are or have been at my school, and some of Alan’s words and thoughts come from students — particularly a few American Indian boys — who have been in my classes over the years.

With the new book I’m working on, there is a whole lot of truth in it. So much truth that it makes me a little nervous. It’s set in a high school in Oklahoma City, a high school with a history of male coaches having sex with female students. The school’s wrong-headed reaction to such a scandal in the beginning of the book is almost a recreation of the most infamous incident to happen at my school since I’ve been there. But the characters and main dramatic situation of the protagonist is the biggest thing. He faces some criticism that is, word-for-word, what I’ve been told by family members as he goes through situations that I have gone through. The difference is that, where my path did not go where the critics said it would, his does. And the people who criticize him, those who lead him into hell, and those who are affected by or witness it are amalgamations of real people.

And they’ll likely recognize enough of themselves in the characters to think I’m writing about them. Some won’t like it.

So, how much truth is too much? I can tell you that when I get to sit down to the writing, it flows so fast and smooth that it’s almost like writing a history instead of fiction. Yes, some of it is that close to reality.

How much truth do you tell with your lies?

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