Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fiction: How Real Is It?

My son posed an interesting question to me when he was nine years old. He stopped behind me and peered over my shoulder while I was typing.

“Mom, if it’s fiction it’s make believe, right? I mean you make it up and it’s not the truth, right? And it’s okay to do that, right?”
Three interrogatory ‘rights’ from my son and I knew something was wrong.
He squirmed through my interrogation and finally coughed up the note home from his teacher that I had to sign for class the next day. He’d been caught ‘writing fiction’ about two boys in grade six who had terrorized the younger kids on the playground. His fiction included unfounded facts about their upbringing that he may have heard at the dinner table. (‘raised by wolves’ was meant as a figure of speech; who knew he paid attention to anything I said.)
The teacher wasn’t particularly upset, having had those boys in her class two years earlier, but none the less a note had to come home.

So how real does fiction have to be?
When we ask our readers to suspend their disbelief we need to give those readers a tenable, alternate belief system.
The facts on which we build our stories must be commonly acknowledged to be true. We chose non refutable facts—true events, real people, actual locations and time periods then anchor a layer of our version of all of the above to those facts.
My new Grace Marsden mystery, The Inn Keeper: An Unregistered Death, involves elements of the Underground Railroad in Illinois.

Fact: An Underground Railroad operated in the Hinsdale area at Graue Mill.
Fact: Frederick Graue and his wife Mary hid freedom seekers from slave catchers.
Fiction: Frederick Graue had a brother who pretended to be an abolitionist.
Fiction: This brother had a home in Oak Park.
Fact: A known Underground Railroad station was in Maywood, Illinois.
Fact: Stations sometimes had secret panels to secret rooms and underground tunnels.
Fiction: Hidden cupboards are discovered during a rehab of the Oak Park home.

What are the differentiators between the fact and fiction statements? Could they be successfully interchanged?
If readers can ‘hang their hat’ on some of the statements why not all? There in lies the weaving of the story we want to tell in the framework we agree to be true.
I love a mystery that could have happened if only this or that slight change in reality had occurred. Who is to say it couldn’t? If we’ve done our job properly—no one!
Luisa Buehler

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Great City Still

Janet and I recently returned from London, our first visit in 10 years. Blessedly, much of what we loved most remains intact: the sense of excitement; the fast but not frenetic pace; the overall cleanliness of streets and sidewalks; the great parks; the museums; the splendor of the fabled Harrod's store; the rich variety of daily newspapers; and the politeness of the residents, three of whom approached us with offers of directions when we appeared perplexed (which we were!).

A couple of things struck us, though: One, the lack of facilities for the disabled in the vast Underground (subway) system. On numeous occasions, we saw people struggling on stairs with canes and crutches or a baby carriage because of an absence of elevators. Two, the West End theater is still flourishing but playbills are no longer free. They cost 3 pounds, or about $4.50!

Enough with the complaints. This remains the city of which the esteemed Dr. Samuel Johnson spoke 200-plus years ago: "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life."

Robert Goldsborough

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Mantra for Boomers

“It may be insane to live in a dream, but it’s madness to live without one!”

I don’t know who said that. I saw it in print with the tag ‘unknown author’.

I cut it out and tacked it to my cork board thirty years ago. I had it put on a plaque for my niece when she graduated high school, my character, Grace Marsden, has it on her bulletin board, I use it on my email signature and I’ve said it to my son from the time he was a toddler.

Perhaps I should have been shouting it to my peers. I see friends approaching retirement and fretting (yes, I still use that word) about what they’ll do—not financially (although that’s an issue) but physically when they no longer march to the tune of gainful employment. My friends, as I am, are the Boomer generation, a group which has been tagged as those ‘living to work’ therefore defined by an employer, a position, a title.

Have we been working in dream jobs or defining careers? When we leave those careers, as 70 million of us will over the next ten years (the rate of one boomer retiring every 8 seconds), what will we do to re-define who we are?

Will we succumb to a sedentary life style that our parents most likely embraced after years on the assembly line or in the secretarial pool?

Nope, I think not. We are the children of the sixties. We dreamed first, grew up fast, worked hard and I hope will retire to dream again.

Luisa Buehler
Boomer at Large

Monday, November 10, 2008

We Remember, We Celebrate...

November 2nd marks All Souls Day for Catholics. This is a day to remember family and friends specifically who passed during the year and generally all those deceased in our circle of life.

My Alma mater, Dominican University in River Forest, IL always offers a Memoriam Mass on the appropriate Sunday. As an undergraduate at Rosary College (before the name change) I loved attending mass in the beautiful chapel.

The mass for All Souls Day brought back those memories even though the attendees filled the chapel and the reading room adjacent to the chapel. I was honored to carry, in the processional, the picture of Mother Emily Power, for whom a student dorm is named. Over thirty participants carried icons and candles through the chapel placing them at their stations of honor during the mass.

The feelings of union in Christ and His purpose settled over the people as it had before during so many masses I attended.

Our coming together in our faith to remember and celebrate our deceased loved ones bonded us sincerely and totally for those sixty minutes of worship.

After the mass, the school provided a lovely brunch for those in attendance; a great time to catch up with friends and faculty.

Elegance and genuineness don’t often dwell in the same space. Not so in the Rosary Chapel on that morning.