I doubt that anyone reading here has ever said, “Oh, I only read non-fiction,” and–perhaps–accompanied the comment with a superior lift of nose?
But, if you’re an author of fiction who appears regularly in public as an author (book talks, signings, interviews, conferences, book clubs . . . ) then I bet it’s been said to you. Unfortunately, those who say it have usually moved on toward their imagined superior reading sources before the lowly fiction author can offer other than a sputtered “pffft.” For a number of years, one of the most telling replies I could think of has been, “Have you read To Kill A Mockingbird, yet? And then, if the speaker hesitates, I smile in (I hope) a friendly manner.
Thing is, a many fiction novels subtly enlighten and change readers who would turn away from blatant instruction or information in non-fiction, especially if it’s on a subject they have already formed an opinion about. Readers, after all, come to fiction only for entertainment. Right? But, as we all know (because Mary Poppins said so), “A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” Of course there are novels that do offer only entertainment. Whoa, wait a minute. How about getting inside the head of any person in trouble? Sympathy? Understanding? How about turning pages more quickly to see if that person finds answers and help? How about seeing a way to repel the advances or threats of an unwelcome male, (or female) or to untangle aggressive cattle barons who want your land and its water rights? How about . . . well, you get the picture, and know you can feel sympathy and understanding while being entertained. (Shh, don’t let the secret out.)
In my own case I realized recently that–though I do not outline plots–I always begin a novel or short story thinking about a typical human problem that needs solving. I also know that, through danger and darkness, a solution will come, and the solution will lead to the redemption of at least one character in that story. Family trauma and alienation, greed, selfish ambition, the nightmare of seeing and causing death in wartime or during civilian criminal action, or just a yearning to find a lost family member to share love with–I have written about these and much more, and also found in my own thoughts the way we humans (via the book people I create) will find answers and at least a measure of comfort and peace.
On another level, my love for the Arkansas Ozarks and a strong desire to share this area with others got me into writing as a mature adult. Want to visit a special tourist attraction or event in Arkansas? You can do so without leaving home or buying a tour guide by reading my novels, since I describe each story location accurately “down to the last doorknob or wildflower.” Stories and crimes are based on what is plausible in any of my real locations, and history feeding into the present-day story is accurate as well. No, it’s not an on-site vacation, but a chance to visit vicariously and exercise imagination while doing so. Our most important solutions to any problems we face are usually born within inspired thought, and what does fiction reading give us but acquaintance with what’s possible as we search for answers? An earlier guest on Motive, Means, Opportunity wrote “Fiction needs to change you.” I say amen to author Channing Whitaker and add: “If we get involved in the story, it always does.”
As an example of places to visit in Arkansas, I share here snapshots of three locations where a crime is seen and solved in one of my fiction stories. See if you can figure out a real-sounding crime for each place. (Maybe reading a chapter from the named novel on my web site: http://www.RadinesBooks.com will help.)
Brief bio and links for Radine Nehring
For more than twenty years, Radine Trees Nehring’s magazine features, essays, newspaper articles, and radio broadcasts have shared colorful stories about the people, places, events, and natural world near her Arkansas home.
In 2002, Radine’s first mystery novel, A VALLEY TO DIE FOR, was published and, in 2003 became a Macavity Award Nominee. Since that time, she has continued to earn writing awards as she enthralls her original fans and attracts new ones with her signature blend of down-home Arkansas sightseeing and cozy amateur sleuthing by active retirees Henry King and Carrie McCrite King.
Website URL: http://www.RadinesBooks.com
Blog URL: http://radine.wordpress.com
Facebook URL: http://www.facebook.com/RadineTreesNehring
Buy link for Portrait to Die For