Monday, November 9, 2009
On stuff you can't make up
HALLIE: Reality sometimes trumps fiction. I remember one day I'm sitting in a coffee shop in New York, one with stools and a little counter across the front window. I'm sipping and gazing out when a man on the street walks by, his head buried in a newspaper. He walks smack into a metal pole. He rears back and punches the pole.
And then there's the time my husband and I were staying at one of those fancy hotels on a Caribbean island. A pair of newlyweds took the hotel's water taxi to nearby island and got stranded there. It grew dark and they became more and more desperate. The wife started digging in the sand and found...a flashlight. Really, she did. Not only that, it worked. They used it to signal until someone on the beach at the hotel noticed and they sent a boat over to rescue them.
I wish I could use either of those incidents in a book, but I don't think anyone would believe it happened, and I can't footnote it (*this really happened). In fiction, reality is no excuse.
Do you have any moments in real life that you couldn't put into a book because no one would believe it happened.
RHYS: Some amazing coincidences--hearing a familiar voice at the Berlin Wall and finding it was my next door neighbor's mother. Bumping into friends in the middle of Sri Lanka. I found a watch buried in the lake bed in six feet of water, dug it out and it was still ticking.
I've overheard some amazing things: I was once swimming laps and from the next lane I heard a woman say, "Of course, the gun belt weighs you down." Had to swim extra fast to try and keep up this conversation.
I was once locked into the gardens at Gramercy Park by mistake and was luckily rescued as it was getting dark. But I did use this in a Molly book.
But you're right--critics jump on any use of coincidence in a book when in real life there are coincidences every day.
ROBERTA: here's a funny true story that people have found hard to believe. In graduate school, I had walked out to the far parking lot when a woman accosted me with a dead battery problem. I told her that I did own jumper cables, but was not confident using them. She was quite scornful about my reluctance to take charge and my reliance on father/boyfriend/husbands in the past. She hooked the cables up, I started my car, and her engine began to spark and smoke. She grabbed a random male student in the next row of cars, all the while screaming: "We need a man! We need a man!"
RO: I love that!! We need a man!
HALLIE: I think I could put that in a book.
RO: I've had my copyeditor comment that one or two things I've written weren't plausible and of course they were things I'd lifted from newspaper articles...like the accountant who bought a horse and managed to turn it into a champion. I was in Costco today and overheard a 13-14 year old girl on the phone having an incredible conversation that involved babies, cops, and some rather extreme circumstances. I can only hope she was talking about a movie. That I might use in a book.
JAN: When I was working as a reporter in Rhode Island, I was listening to a radio talk show, when Raymond Patriarca, the head of the New England mob, actually called in. He wanted to tell everyone that he truly had a lot of respect for Arline Violet, the (then) state's attorney general (and a former nun), because she was the only honest (and presumably incorruptible) politician in Rhode Island. No one would believe THAT if you used it in a novel.
HANK: As a reporter, sometimes coincidences happen in another way. Like I'll be thinking--I wish I had a person who's been scammed by a (pick a bad thing) so I could use them as an example in a story. Then bing. I'll get an email from just that sort of person. How does that happen? And I mean, things like that occur so often that my producer and I just tell ourselves--If we need it, it will come. And SO CONSISTENTLY, when it's the right time, the universe provides.
But if you put that in a book, it's instantly ridiculous.
(I must say, Jan, I called the PR person for a certain government agency recently, and asked a question. She freaked out, and said, "Wait wait, I'm not allowed to answer that, you need to talk to a man." Truly.)
(Oh, wait. Here's one. We were in Nevis, in British West Indies, having a cocktail at an outdoor bar at our hotel. Suddenly we hear--Hello, Jonathan. It's Jonathan's law school pal, Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer. I didn't know Jonathan knew him. And that's weirder because Breyer was also my boss when I worked on Capitol Hill in 1973. Put THAT in a book.)
HALLIE: The most bizarre, most un-fiction-worthy things happen all the time. So, what's happened to you that no one would believe if you put it in a book.