Today, two smart quotes from a novel I enjoyed years back and came across again recently, City of Thieves, by David Benioff (2008), an improbable combination of buddy road trip and historical novel set during the siege of Leningrad. The narrator’s deceased father had been a poet.
“[T]ruth might be stranger than fiction, but it needs a better editor.”
“It was very odd to speak openly about my father and his work. The words themselves seemed unsafe, as if I were confessing a crime and the authorities might hear. … Still, it was good to talk about him. It made me happy that poems are referred to in the present tense even when the poet is the past tense.”
— David Benioff, in City of Thieves
“The only rule of thumb is to write about what you love, and write about what scares you. Those stories will ring true, if you tell them truly.”
– Greg Bear, American science fiction novelist (b. 1951, in The Writer, July 2010
(photo of Swan Lake by Leslie)
I spotted this blog post on the NW Sidebar, a publication of the Washington State Bar, titled Witness Backgrounds: What’s Admissible in Washington vs. Oregon, and thought it raises some interesting possibilities for fiction writers. (I’ll wait while you read it.)
In short, every state sets its own standards for what criminal history can be brought out when a witness testifies in court. But these are good examples of two general approaches — one more flexible, one more stringent, though in each state, statutory limits are the starting point.
How can you use this in your story? Is a witness afraid to report a crime, or to speak honestly to police, or to testify in court because of her history? How will your fictional prosecutor deal with an eye witness who has a lengthy criminal history, even though it may have nothing to do with what the witness saw? Even bad guys can innocently, by coincidence or bad luck, witness other bad guys in the act. How will your fictional defense lawyer deal with the same situation? What emotions does the fear of testifying trigger in your witness? She and her new husband were beaten and robbed; if they testify against the thug, will the ten-year-old arrest for forgery that she’s never told him about be used against her in court? What will she do to prevent that—lie? Insist he testify? Develop laryngitis or an excuse to be out of state visiting her supposedly ill sister? Will a jury really hold a minor criminal history against a witness or victim in evaluating credibility?
Note that we are talking about witnesses here, not defendants. We’ll talk about the admissibility of a defendant’s criminal history another time.
“In general, I think the human imagination has a compulsive or obsessive aspect to it, and the consequences of obsession can be negative in the extreme. … But of course I also believe that imagination is what in large part separates us from the chipmunks. We can envision a future for ourselves. We can envision a better and more decent world. We can envision ourselves as better and more decent human beings. And now and then we can take a bold, glorious stride into that which we’ve imagined.”
– Tim O’Brien, American novelist (b. 1946) quoted in The Writer, July 2010
(photo by Leslie)
Sisters in Crime recently published our annual Publishing Summit report, looking this year at the issues surrounding diversity: Report for Change: the 2016 Publishing Summit Report on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the Mystery Community.
And so, I loved this collection of a few quotes from some our best-known and most important writers of Native American or indigenous ancestry, called A Door to Memory. I hope you’ll find them inspiring, too.
“Life is a chance, a story is a chance. That I am here is a chance.”
— Gerald Vizenor, Some Other Frequency: Interviews with Innovative American Authors, 1996
(Hat tip to PJ Coldren)