The Intersection of Fact, Fiction, and Memory

Putting together a novel, particularly one set in the past, involves an interesting improvisational dance between fact and fiction. It's improvisational because as a work emerges early expectations about the rules of the relationship between fact and fiction tend to shift, sometimes out of necessity, and sometimes out of choice. For example, when I put together a Nick Temple File, I work hard to get the context right. What did Crete look like in the 1950s? What tools were available to those fighting the Cold War in the 1960s? Where was Miami's airport? What did the interior look like? What buildings dominated downtown Atlanta in the early 1960s? What hotel would Nick Temple have stayed at on St. Thomas? What was a popular model of speedboat in 1962? Most questions like those are easy enough to research and answer. However, sometimes the answer is unsatisfactory and I then have a choice: rewrite the scene to find a hotel, airport, city, etc., that fits the story, or create a fictional hotel, airport, or cityscape that projects the era's feel. At times research is merely a check on my memory; at times it's a tool to supply facts outside of my own experience; at times it's a way to simply flesh out or buttress the story's context, to take the reader deeper into the era; and at times I ignore the results of my research. Whatever ultimately emerges from the intersection of fact, fiction, and memory has to have some thread of consistency, has to exist within some rules acceptable to the reader. Figuring out what those rules are is an exercise in ongoing, contemporaneous retrospection during the first draft's creation. The logic of the story reveals itself and imposes limits that need to be respected for the story to be credible. A scene that breaks the rules will feel like fingernails on a chalkboard and have the same effect - an understandable impulse to turn away. Not surprisingly, I'd rather the reader keep turning the pages, wanting more of the same. Getting them to that point by navigating through that intersection, is easier said than done.