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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Putting us in their place

"Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia."  -- E.L. Doctorow

We lost one of our greatest crafters of historical fiction this past week with the death of novelist and historian E.L. Doctorow, whose novel Ragtime won every major writing award and was the precursor of many other great works to follow.

Doctorow said that it is the historian's place to tell us about a time in history or an era, but it is the novelist's role to tell us how we would act and feel if we lived in that time or era.

His characters exemplified Hemingway's admonition that when writing a novel, the writer should create living people - "... people, not characters.  A character is a caricature."

I thought about Doctorow and his marvelous work yesterday while talking with a radio interviewer sbout my book And The Wind Whispered.  "You really put us into the time and place," the interviewer said.  "Did you feel an obligation to make that real to us, so that we would know?"

And I used Doctorow's words above as part of my response, saying that it IS the writer's obligation.  It is not acceptable to be "mostly right."  We must be completely right in what we share if we are to remain true to our craft and the great writers like him who have led us along the way.

"Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader," Doctorow wrote.  "Not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon."

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