By Greg X. Graves
Posted May 7, 2012
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I would make a terrible journalist.
Did you know that they’re not allowed to lie? And if they lie, then there are consequences? Every time a journalist lies the moustache of a robber baron grows three inches and becomes three degrees curlier. A scummy crime boss grows another layer of grim. A corrupt politician crashes the first six miles of his Bentley into an orphanage and has time to finish his single-malt scotch before climbing into his auxiliary Cadillac and jettisoning before the passenger compartment comes within view of the wreckage.
The thought of responsibility makes me sweat. That’s why I spend my writing time making up stuff.
Fact about me: facts don’t work on me. I zone out and have flashbacks to my past life as a history student. Did you know that Caesar Augustus was not the final Roman Emperor to ride a Tyrannosaurus Rex into battle? That the Sack of Rome is not a lewd reference to Mark Antony? That everything that I know about the ancient world could be inscribed on a grain of rice with an extra-fat Sharpie?
Don’t put the cap back on the marker. Take a few deep breaths, then open up Tacitus. You’ll get an idea of how I understand history.
But sometimes I have to struggle with facts (ew), just like I have to struggle with transitions. Both hurdles have come up very recently.
I’ve been writing an alternate history novel for the past nine months. And it turns out that for it to be “alternate history” and not “mindfluff” then I have to put some actual history into it. World War I. Wireless telegraphy. Electrification, urban and rural. Tesla. The Curies. Nuclear weapons.
One of these things is totally like the other and you’d believe me if it wasn’t for stupid facts.
History, granted, is not fact: history is by its very nature an interpretive act. Historians must choose what stories to tell and what stories go untold. They piece together stories and data into patterns that make or break a thesis. Historians combine fact with passion, intramural drama and incredible myopia to interpret the past.
These qualities are vital to wrest any sort of tangible, worthwhile product out of the howling mysteries of the past.
Wait. These qualities also make for great plots. Passion? Intramural drama? Myopia?
Maybe my next book should be about historians instead of history. Maybe I could ignore some of these facts.
Whoops. I said the f-word again. I have to go lie down.
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