Weeding out fiction; resolute in pursuit of truth
Every one of us is a walking talking story. Every day is a new chapter.
For the past 17 years, I have shared this statement, my true belief, with thousands and thousands of people, all ages and walks of life. I encourage children and adults to look at their lives as amazing stories unfolding, as interesting as any literary work out there, if you only open your eyes to see it that way.
When speaking to classrooms, offering tips, advice to students on how to find story ideas, how to get their creativity flowing, I often recommend they take a true story or experience, and use it as the bones of their written work. Write what you know, yes, but fine tune it with and turn it into fiction.
That said, I am not a fan of reading historical fiction unless the line between fact and fiction is very clear. Otherwise my mind gets distracted and confused trying to decipher what is real that I should keep mental notes on and what is not. Consequently I have trouble letting go, immersing myself in the story.
Strangely enough, real life of late has emulated just that, fact changed by fiction, in ways I never expected.
Recently, I heard of an endangered Newfoundland pony going to auction. Due to the economy, and severe hay shortage, there is a huge lack of homes, and this pony was clearly in danger as many auctioned horses are being sold for meat. Immediately a friend and I rallied to raise funds to buy him and transport him to a good home, many miles from the auction house. Initially the response was great, offers of help and donations were pouring in.
As I said, behind everything there is a story, and just like the middle of a good novel, conflict developed, about how this pony ended up where he did and what the true situation was. E-mails circulated amongst the pony community once we stepped forward to announce our intentions of re-homing this pony. Through them I learned that illness, broken promises, rubber checks, politics, lies and deceit were what drove this pony to the auction house. My intentions and my ethics were questioned publicly; I was accused of misleading people. People started bickering over who should have the pony and who shouldn’t. This pony, and our well-intentioned attempt to save it, was a hot topic.
There are two sides to every story, and somewhere in the middle is the truth. I stood, in that middle, as mistruths were fired at me like cannon balls. I did not engage. Ah yes, historical fiction, and my least favorite kind, where facts and fiction are not clearly defined. But instead of closing the book and not continuing on with this story, I worked hard to define the fiction and find the truth between the lines. We took that truth and went to the auction, where the amount of the highest bid would define whether this pony would live or die and write the ending to this story.
In the background, horses whinnied in distress. In the ring, their eyes were wide with fear, yet they still trusted enough to cooperate with the human handling them. I wondered how many of those handlers were the owners who once loved them. I wondered what it must be like for each animal, not understanding, not knowing where it was headed. The auctioneer made jokes about a mini donkey whose stringhalt condition made it high step, hardly funny for the donkey.
It made little difference whether it was a horse, a pony, donkey, mini or even a foal, the meat man’s agents were buying everything it seemed. Prices were very low, allowing that to happen. I sat there thinking about the story behind each of those poor animals, and how they got there. I wondered if any of their owners, in desperate situations, had given their pet away to the same “nice girl” who answered the ad this pony’s owner had placed, promised the pony a good home but immediately dumped him in the auction, not caring where he went, only caring that she made a buck.
As the obviously confused and terrified pony was allowed to enter the ring early because his handler was having trouble controlling him, the bidding was fast and furious. I bid but once, early on, and as the price rose up and up, far beyond what any meat man would pay, I told my auction attendant I was done bidding. I knew this pony would live. I quickly realized the controversy, the mud-filled cannon balls thrown my way had in actuality ricocheted, lighting a fire under private would-be owners to attend and bid, and this pony was going home, commanding one of the higher prices paid that day. No, I hadn’t won, but truth had. And truth had saved a life.
Emily Chetkowski is a children’s author who resides in New Ipswich. For more information on Emily and her books, visit www. emilychetkowski.com.