October 7, 2014

When Should Writers Lie?

Even If It’s Fiction—Should Writers Lie?

I read a review on one of my books the other day, and the person found it unbelievable that 6-year-old kids were drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and using foul language. Mind you, these scenes took place 30+ years ago, and in an ethnic neighborhood in the city. But this wasn’t the first time a reviewer mentioned this. I even had one person email me to state how it almost made him put the book down.

I admit that the kids in my book, Murder Takes Time, do a lot of wrong things. I admit that they do adult things, and that it might be difficult for some readers to identify with that. But that doesn’t mean it didn’t, or doesn’t, happen.

What’s really unbelievable about this, is that readers will buy into almost anything—aliens, vampires, werewolves, insanely ridiculous loves scenes, gruesome murders, car chase scenes that couldn’t be done if the streets were empty (let alone in the middle of rush hour traffic). But these same readers can’t buy into a six-year-old drinking coffee and smoking.

Here’s the Crazy Thing

All of the things these readers couldn’t buy into were true.

These were stories from where I grew up. In our family, and many others, coffee was served to you before school. My mother had coffee waiting for my brothers and me every morning by the time we got downstairs—in first grade! My aunt used to give it to me in a bottle when I was two and three. And damn near every house in the neighborhood had coffee brewing at all times of day. My two aunts, who lived next door, had coffee on at 10:00 at night. That’s how we did things.

What About Cigarettes?

Cigarettes were a different story, but not much different. Most families had at least one parent who smoked, and the majority of the young boys smoked. My older brothers got me started when I was five. I never quit until I had a heart attack 40 years later. And all of the stories about stealing cigarettes were true also. Even the story about the roach races was true. If I thought anyone would doubt anything it would have been the roach races. I even put a picture of the original sign we made to announce it on my website. I’ve included it below.

The other common complaint in the book was the language the kids used. I can tell you that kids in our neighborhood were not saying “oh sugar” when something went wrong. But we did have respect for women and elders.

Should I Have Left Out The Truth?

Should writers lie? In this case, absolutely not. Regardless of what anyone believes or doesn’t believe, Murder Takes Time was the kind of story that demanded a certain amount of honesty. The Friendship & Honor series is built on the basis of the unbreakable bonds formed by a few kids growing up in their neighborhood. Even though these kids have taken different paths and lead different lives, that bond remains.

In order to show that, and to make it work, I had to be honest with the depiction of the young boys. Their bond in the book had to be real, or it wouldn’t have worked when they grew up. And it certainly wouldn’t have held together through several books.

Bottom Line

For anyone who questions—why do I portray kids smoking, and cursing, and drinking coffee as six-years old…it’s because those kids really did that.

And to all the people who have read these books, you have my gratitude. I’ll do my best to keep turning out the best I can.

If you enjoyed this post, please share.

Giacomo Giammatteo is the author of gritty crime dramas about murder, mystery, and family. And he also writes non-fiction books including the No Mistakes Careers series.

He lives in Texas where he and his wife have an animal sanctuary with 45 loving “friends.”

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