Friday, December 13, 2013

Fiction is Stranger than Truth - Or Is It?

Fiction is stranger than truth – or is it? 
by Debra H. Goldstein

Writers pull stories out of the air – or at least that’s how it seems.

In reality, the seeds of a story may have many origins.  An incident in our lives, an anecdote someone tells us, a line of poetry, chance meetings or long time friendships may be the “what if” that triggers our imaginations.

Sally Berneathy provided a good example of this in her November 26th Stiletto Gang blogpost when she wrote about transforming her interaction with a road-rage filled driver into a character in the her current work in progress. My recent Bethlehem Writers Roundtable short story, “A Political Cornucopia,” ( grew out of a chance discussion about Southern politics with a colleague.

We were talking about the practice of buying votes and he mentioned a fifty year old newspaper picture of a group of candidates, including one of his relatives, standing on the marble stairs of a rural courthouse shaking hands as they solemnly agreed to run clean campaigns.  I googled the incident and came up with a picture of four stern-faced contenders over a caption describing their no-vote-buying agreement.

I consulted a number of search engines but never found out whether the candidates in the picture kept their word, but looking at their 1950’s clothing took me back to an era when Southern politicians often behaved like fictional characters.  White suits, big hats, kissing babies, and a little moonshine were gimmicks used to help the public remember each candidate.  It was a time before the media instantly reported blunders so candidates were less restrained in their public activities because there always was time, money, and flunkies to mitigate their messes.   My imagination took off.

Soon, I had written “A Political Cornucopia,” a story about vote buying and a 1960 election set in Mayberry-like Wahoo, Alabama told through the eyes of a young cub reporter.  A chance comment by a colleague, an old newspaper photo, my childish impressions of elections in the 1960’s acquired through newspapers and newsreels, my reading about Southern politics, my transplanted Yankee impressions of Southern towns and customs, and my love of mystery all came together to produce a work of fiction that Bethlehem Writers Roundtable enjoyed enough to make their featured November 2013 story.

When “A Political Cornucopia” was published, I shared the link for my made-up tale with the colleague whose comment was the seed for the story.  In my e-mail, I apologized for making my fictitious story more elaborate than the truth.  He sent me back a link to a much later newstory – one that almost mirrored where my imagination had gone.  Reading it, I shuddered.  I always thought fiction is stranger than truth, but is it?
                                                                                ~ ~ ~ ~
Debra H. Goldstein's short story, "A Political Cornucopia" was the November featured story by Bethlehem Writer's Roundtable.  Her debut novel, Maze in Blue, received a 2012 IPPY award and will be reissued in May 2014 as a Harlequin Worldwide Mystery.


  1. So true, Debra! Everything is fodder for the writer's brain.

    1. That's right, Sally. What gets scary is how the brain and the truth intersect.

  2. Ah yes, getting sadder and wiser as one gets regards the lengths people will go to get what they want...and what they think they deserve. I'm thinking here specifically of political shenanigans.
    I thought politics were lots more on the up and up than they now appear to be, and I was only disabused of that perhaps quaint notion over the past fifteen years.
    I've lived in Texas for 23 years and half my family is Texan. Everyone knows this is a state with its fair share of political chicanery. Imagine my surprise when someone at work told me, perhaps three years back, that she found politics in Texas "so clean." After I recovered from shock, I asked where she had moved from.
    She replied, "Louisiana."
    Yes indeed, that did explain it all !
    Proving that things are always relative.