Danger and Melancholy in the Half-Fictional World
By D.R. Ransdell
I’ve always loved reading and writing fiction, never non-fiction. Why are so many of us drawn to the novel? I’m convinced it boils down to the willingness to suspend disbelief. For the sake of enjoyment, we’re willing to enter the world of the story and stay there for the duration.
Yet that unreal world must be believable. As a writer I play with the fact/fiction blur. I use people I know to create characters. Why not start from scratch? Somehow I assume that if I start with the real and add the unreal, the end result will be just right. Thus the protagonist that kicks off my murder mystery series in Mariachi Meddler is a composite of key mariachi players I’ve worked with. Andy Veracruz has their winning characteristics—and some of their worst habits. In his own way, he’s perfect!
When I started Island Casualty, though, I dug deeper into my past. Not only did I base a central character on a cherished former roommate, but I based the love interest on a guy I’d met briefly and imagined extensively. I called him Hari in the book, but I’d met the real-life version on my first trip to Greece during an all-night singalong from Brindisi to Athens. When Drossos and I found out that we shared a common language of Italian, we couldn’t stop talking. And thanks to his invitation to Kálymnos, we didn’t have to. For five of the most wonderful days ever, I was a guest on a Greek island.
When I needed a romantic Greek hero for my novel, I had one readymade. As I wrote, I was under a Hellenic spell of remembering lovely nights I’d spent listening to bouzouki bands or swimming in the moonlight. In chapter after chapter, I relived my magical vacation and fantasized about a man I would never see again. Who knows what became of him?
Last week I attended the Greek festival in Tucson, the musicians, flown in from L.A., played very well. The bouzouki player’s fingers flashed up and down the instrument while the keyboardist sang haunting lyrics to island rhythms. Yet the music made me depressingly nostalgic as I automatically thought about Drossos-turned-fictional-Hari. I’d been so effective in creating my own world out of the fabric of my life that—well, I overdid it. I made the fictional so present that I was practically in tears.
What’s the moral of the story? It’s great to suspend disbelief. And it’s probably a good writing technique to blend the fictional with the real. But writers ought to be careful not to take themselves or their characters too seriously. Otherwise they’ll be pining over the lost opportunities they never had in the first place! They’ll be lost in their own worlds to the point that they’ll ignore opportunities in the worlds they’re living in. Funny, huh?
But for the readers, the situation is win-win. All they have to do is suspend their disbelief a tiny bit, and they’ll get the full experience. They won’t even need to be melancholy. Opa!
About the Author:
D.R. Ransdell writes from Tucson, Arizona, where she enjoys good swimming weather most of the year. During the school season she teaches composition to international students at the University of Arizona. She also moonlights in a mariachi band, which gives her plenty of ideas for murder victims. When vacation starts, she hits the road, leaving behind several mischievous cats. One of her favorite travel destinations is Greece, where each island offers a new favorite beach and she can spend long nights listening to bouzouki music.
A lost engagement ring, whizzing bullets, and a midnight Vespa ride add up to a terrible vacation! When Andy Veracruz flies to Greece for a holiday, the California native expects to spend afternoons swimming and nights making love. But at an outdoor café, he meets a fellow traveler who accidentally leaves behind a package. Before Andy can return it, the man disappears. Andy tries to enjoy the rest of his vacation, but he realizes that he’s not safe anywhere on the island. While he’s around, his friends aren’t safe either! He vows not to take any more vacations, but how can he uncover the truth so that he can make his escape?