"Tell the truth, but tell it slant." ~ Emily Dickinson
September 27, 2006

I don't remember a time when I wasn't storytelling. Before I could write, I preyed upon my playmates for an audience. I actually had some convinced (for about an hour, anyway, until I admitted I'd made it up) that the repaired patch of floor in my bedroom closet which resembled a trapdoor led to an alternate universe: Candyland. I told them about how the trapdoor opened only in deepest night, but when you went through it was daylight on the other side and quite tropical, the tree branches laden with Juicy Fruit and Sweet Tarts, the vines literally cherry and licorice Vines, the paving stones of the path through the forest made of Chiclets. So it appears that I was doomed to be a genre writer from an early age—and I learned an important lesson that day in not disappointing an audience after weaving a good tale. 

I suppose I got the storytelling gene from my biological father, a consummate yarn-spinner. He had that old-fashioned power, that around-the-campfire fascination essence, which drew people (especially kids) to pause and Listen. I'm not half the storyteller he was, but I clearly inherited or learned some of my fundamentals there.  

Dad had a penchant for adventure stories in which he starred—so many stories of an event-filled life. At least a couple of them couldn't have happen real-life as he related them.  I found that out after he died. The first time I realized that out it totally rocked my world. I'd come to believe in these stories as much as I believed in the power of a red rose to smell sweet. Undermining them meant I had nothing to hold on to, would never be able to know what of my dad's life was truth and what was made up.  

After a time, I came to understand that if my father's stories didn't literally happen the way he told them, they were nonetheless true for him, as true as he could make them: fictions of the heart that he never bothered to write down. 

I make a much clearer distinction between fiction and real life, and I write my fiction down.  But I also try to write fiction of the heart, as true as I can make it to the internal realities of my characters, and life as I have experienced it in my own fractured way. It's a distant echo of my father's power of storytelling, but like his stories, as real as I can make something that never happened.


Copyright © 2010 P.J. Thompson