27 July 2016

To Tell the Truth

On July 25, the New Yorker published a story by Donald Trump's ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, with the subhead: “The Art of the Deal” made America see Trump as a charmer with an unfailing knack for business. Tony Schwartz helped create that myth—and regrets it.

Like a best-selling medieval apology, Schwartz’s Confession offers justification, conviction, and catastrophic consequences.

The ultimate result of selling his soul, Schwartz says, “is an excellent possibility it will lead to the 
end of civilization.”

Wow! A writer will be responsible for the world’s end. Cool. The pen really is mightier than the sword.

OK, maybe it isn't so cool. But on a more serious note, Schwartz's cautionary tale sparks a bigger question for me: what is my responsibility to Truth?

The gifts of writing and storytelling are also the gift of persuasion—the ability to get someone to suspend disbelief and join you in a fictional world is no small feat.

The truth often resonates in ways we don’t expect and probably can’t explain. Our earliest tales conveyed warnings and lessons. These stories entertained and helped us learn from others' misfortune, a way to start where others stopped.

As a fiction writer, my stories aren’t true, but all such tales carry deep within them a kernel of Truth. The truth of what our characters do and say. The truth of love and forgiveness. The Truth of optimism and happily ever afters.

But lately I’ve been struggling with a character because where he needs to go where none of my other characters have gone before. But it is his truth. And it is a truth the heroine desperately needs to know exists. And it could well be a truth that one of my readers needs to see.

I just fear that it won’t sell if I embrace that truth.

Of course, not telling this truth won’t line my pockets with gold or bring about the end of the world (thank God) but it will make the story easier to tell and easier to sell.

Schwartz’s confession reminded me that what I do with my talent matters.

The stories you spin matter, too. Ignoring the truth in what you write might not lead directly to a dystopian future, but it could prevent the need for penning your own Historia Calamitatum.

11 July 2016

The stove or the store?

As I was cleaning my stovetop this morning, I started wondering what my current medieval heroine would think of kitchen.

This is a question I ask with each book I write because, well...it says a lot about the heroine (or hero) and gives me an idea of what they like least about their daily life.

Tess (from TIES THAT BIND) was endlessly fascinated by the idea of a shower.

Liza (ANAM CARA) couldn't get past the grocery store--particularly the produce aisle.

William (ENTHRALLED) didn't like guns, calling it dishonorable to kill your opponent without his knowing you were trying to kill him. Only thieves and Frenchmen did that. He liked globes, though, and the GPS feature on my iPhone. He loved the idea of always knowing exactly where you are wherever you go.

Alain (ART OF LOVE) wanted to hang out in the emergency rooms and forced me to watch a lot of medical shows on TV. Unlike William, he was perfectly fine with killing people in anyway that got the job done, but found it a intriguing that our medical skills improve in tandem with our people-killing abilities.

King Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine make special appearances in three of my books, TIES THAT BIND, ENTHRALLED, and ART OF LOVE. Henry found the idea of democracy intriguing in a "how does that work without exploding like a rotten corpse" kind of way. Meanwhile, Eleanor dismissed it with a wave of her hand. "I know best," she said.

My newest couple, Johanna and Giric from A QUIET NIGHT AT THE HAPPY MONK (ONE HOT KNIGHT, an new anthology from my publisher) were both surprised at how little drinking establishments have changed.

Johanna, who runs the student hangout The Happy Monk in Paris, wanted to know the profit margin for each drink. If she were to exist in this time and place, I see her attending business school and running a string of tiki bars along the southern coast.

Her hero, Giric, said: "Yer bars still smell of old beer and tae many people." I have a feeling he'd buy a boat and be responsible for the catch of the day at Johanna's waterfront establishment. He's not what we'd call a "people person" in any century.

Getting back to the stove, as I was cleaning it, Emma was enthralled by the simple fact that I could put something in the oven, set the timer and walk away without worries that it would burn, set the house on fire, or the fire would go out.

It's the little things that have changed the most.

04 July 2016

Have I got a story for you!

A very fanciful news item made the rounds a few years ago: the discovery of the first gay caveman. When I saw the item, I figured the headline writers were just being salacious, as such writers are. However, the gay caveman was the conclusion of the lead archeologist.

A former newspaper editor of mine used to say, “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.” He was being sarcastic, of course. I can only imagine his words—most of them unprintable—if this story came across his desk.

The facts are that a man from the Corded Ware culture was found buried in a manner previously only seen in graves for females. According to the article, the society, sometimes called the Battle Ax or the Single Grave culture, typically buried people with gender-specific tools—weapons for men, pots and jugs for women.

So what does this mean? Well, apparently that the man was gay. Lead archeologist Kamila Remisova Vesinova said, “From history and ethnology, we know that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously so it is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake. Far more likely is that he was a man with a different sexual orientation, homosexual or transsexual.”

Far more likely? Far more likely that the archeologist either is looking for publicity or she forgot to check her biases at the door. Almost all societies did—and do—take burial rites seriously.

I’m not saying that the man in question wasn’t gay. In fact, we have no idea who he was, what he was, or why he was buried as a woman—and that is a great plot bunny. As a novelist, I could spin quite a tale about how the man came to be buried in such a manner. I actually made notes about a man who attacked the lord’s daughter and was buried in such a manner as an act of revenge. I haven't written the story yet, but it's fermenting in my mind.

What about you? If you were going to use this incident in a tale, what would be the story behind it? 

Keena Kincaid writes historical romances in which passion, magic and treachery collide to create unforgettable stories. You can find out more about her books hereLeave a comment for a chance to win one of her books.