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JEAN SHEPHERD-ways of truth/fiction

HOW DO I TRUTH/FICTION YOU? LET ME COUNT THE WAYS 

One can simply write one’s version of the “truth.” As in a news report of other reportage. Or in a description of a trip one has taken, as I believe Shepherd does to a great extent when he gives a broadcast travel-tale of his.

One can give a subjective description of the issue at hand, indicating that one is telling the truth within this context. I’d say that Shepherd’s descriptions of occurrences such as his “straws in the wind” could be considered to be in this category.

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moby_first_edition-thumb-280x427    usa trilogy

Moby Dick is constructed as a fiction with interspersed true chapters about whaling. And it’s understood that the true parts are the context to make for the reader of the fiction, a fuller, more complex experience. Dos Passos’ USA Trilogy (The 42nd Parallel, 1919, The Big Money) does the same through the interspersed short segments of true, historical context in “Newsreels;” “Headlines;” Autobiographical “Camera Eye” pieces; and biographical vignettes of historical figures. There is no confusion about which is which. I tend to feel that the Melville and the Dos Passos are each the Great American Novel of its century. Many historical fiction authors write using their own interpretations of actual historical figures portrayed within their novels–leaving the readers uncertain and probably misled regarding what indeed was the truth of the matter. This is why I don’t want to read novelizations of important events–soon one can easily confuse the real event one knows with parts of the fictional re-telling.

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Hemingway, among many others, sometimes made use of his autobiographical experiences, reconstructed into his fictions. Some of this is recognizable for the truths to his life. When done to a large extent, in some authors this becomes the “portraying of identifiable people more or less thinly disguised as fictional characters,” a roman a clef. (I just read a review of a new John Updike bio, which states that much of Updike’s fiction–including sexual escapades–is based on his own experiences.)

writer as artist

An important critical analysis, Hemingway, The Writer as Artist, by Carlos Baker, fascinated me decades ago and strongly influenced my writing of three unpublished novels (Rio Amazonas, is available through the self-publishing company, XLibris). Baker shows instances of how Hemingway—and thus, many other novelists, make use of experiences true to the author, then transform that material into fiction. I made use of this idea by constructing my novels with short “true-to my-experiences” chapters alternating with the much longer fictional chapters which can be seen as having been, in one form or another, loosely based/inspired by my true experiences. There is thus an ironic relationship between the true and fiction parts. Rio Amazonas relates the fictional story of museum professionals “raping” Peru of its treasures, inspired by my five-months of Fulbright-Grant true experiences in Peru’s coast, highlands, and jungle. (The young woman I photographed in the Amazon jungle was my immediate inspiration for the story.) The Pomegranate Conspiracy is my novel of an idealistic American (a fictionalized me) involved with Spanish urban guerrillas in an assassination plot, inspired by my life-long love/hate relationship with Spain and Granada. (FYI—I was married for a couple of hellish years to a young woman from Granada, Spain. In Spanish, “granada” =pomegranate, and also = hand grenade. As one might imagine, I’ve had a number of intimate, personal experiences of Granada –“Granada, I’m falling under your spell. And if you could speak what a fascinating tale you would tell.”)

rio amazonas

(Design and execution of these two covers by eb)

POMEGRANATE 2

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Somewhere in all of the above is the rough location of where Jean Shepherd’s kid stories and army stories fit. People following my thinking on this matter may remember that my strong belief is that Shepherd was inspired by his extraordinary ability to understand what it’s like to be a kid and a soldier, and this facilitated his related, extraordinary ability to transform such perceptions into mostly fictional material. One might remember Shepherd’s comment at the opening of his first book of kid stories: “The characters, places, and events described herein are entirely fictional, and any resemblance to individuals living or dead is purely coincidental, accidental, or the result of faulty imagination.” Also of some relevance is the report that when Shepherd encountered that the New York Times had listed the book as non-fiction, he contacted them to insist that it was fiction.

young shep

Jean Parker Shepherd–truth-teller/fiction teller, depending.

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