As a writer, I am fascinated by the way that reality and fiction blend together. It is the subject of an essay by Ben Dolnick, Star-Struck, published in today’s New York Times Magazine. Dolnick writes about how Olivia Wilde, at the age of 10, had a crush on him. But what he’s mostly writing about is how he’s told the story so many times, how he’s shaped the telling to the point that he cannot honestly say whether he has a memory of the actual experience or only a memory of the storytelling about the experience. I have that same feeling when I think about my high school graduation. I have blogged before about the events of that day, so I won’t bore you with the retelling, except to say that a member of the local Board of Education stood up in front of the graduating class, our parents, friends and guests and assorted members of the community and accused me of being a traitor, of giving aid and comfort to the enemy. He suggested that kids like me would be better off if we turned on backs on people like Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and tried instead to be more like him, a pillar of the community, volunteering his time on the local Board of Education, serving his community. A month later, this pillar of the community was arrested for hiring someone to murder his wife.
That was more than 40 years ago. I have told the story so many times, both orally and in writing, that when I tell it now, the words hardly change at all. And I wonder sometimes, do I remember the events of that day, or do I only remember the story I tell about the events of that day?
I’m currently reading Hammett Unwritten, a wonderful book, especially if you are a Hammett fan, especially if you watch The Maltese Falcon each and every time it’s on tv. In Hammett Unwritten, a fictional Dashiell Hammett, dying of cancer in 1959, attempts to steal the Black Falcon, the fraudulent objet d’art from the “fictionally real” Black Falcon Affair, an allegedly true crime upon which the fictional Dashiell Hammett based his book, The Maltese Falcon. If that’s not quite confusing enough, Hammett Unwritten, is written by the fictional Owen Fitzstephen, with notes and afterword by Gordon McAlpine, who is in fact, the author of the book. As I already mentioned, as a writer I am fascinated by the way that reality and fiction blend together.
Which is a long way round to share this quote from Dashiell Hammett. Did Dashiell Hammett really offer this advice in an article published in The Young Writer’s Monthly Journal in August 1927 or was it perhaps advice from the fictional Hammett? And does it really matter which Hammett shared this nugget of wisdom?
“Elements of your tale may be preposterous. What matters is not making the ‘fantastical’ plausible to your readers; rather, what matters is that the ‘fantastical’ seems plausible to your characters, with whom your readers identify as being true to life…”
I would really like to explore this idea more thoroughly, but I’ve been writing at a madcap pace in my work-in-progress about an average guy who makes a bad decision when his girlfriend turns up dead, and how that bad decision sets him on a path that just keep getting worse. So anyway, now I’ve got two dead bodies packed in ice in my bathtubs, and a third dead body in the basement of my home. And as if that’s not enough trouble for one day, I seem to have misplaced a duffel bag filled with my girlfriend’s body parts.
So I really shouldn’t be blogging just now. I’ve got a few housekeeping chores to attend to before I can call it a day.