Thursday, October 1, 2015

Is the truth really stranger than fiction?

I guess the answer to that question depends on what kind of fiction you read. For me, the answer has always been a resounding “No!” What in real life could possibly be weirder than vampires turned priests, or immortal demon hunters? Yes, my choice of reading material sets the bar pretty high on the strangeness meter.

Lately, though, I find myself rethinking my position.

When I’m writing a book, I spend an enormous amount of time doing research. I need details on everything from street names to historical figures to weather patterns to, well, everything. I’ll spend hours poring over articles, news clippings, videos, and pictures. Oh, and on a side note, I have no idea how authors were able to do all of that before the internet. Kudos to them.

That research often ends up taking me to places that I never knew existed and sometimes, if I’m really lucky, it will reshape my story into something I’d never imagined. It’s those times that have made me wonder if the truth really isn’t more interesting than fiction.

My research into the Grand Canyon uncovered some incredible things. Rogue’s storyline and setting needed to be rewritten a few times in order to incorporate those unbelievable findings. I’d never before questioned why most of the north side of the canyon is off limits to everyone. Nor had I wondered why so many of its rock formations had Egyptian names. A local newspaper article from more than a century ago gave me answers to questions I’d never even thought to ask.

And then there are the details I can’t get through the internet. Not because there isn’t enough information floating around out there, but because there’s just too much. That’s what I’ve been dealing with for Chaos, the book I’m writing now.

I have several characters in this story who are witches, and the only personal experience I have with that is the Halloween costume I once wore as a child. Somehow, I just knew that the green-faced, cackling old shrew with the pointy black hat wouldn’t work in my book. So I fired up my laptop.

Days later, I found myself bogged down with mountains of information. It seemed as though everyone had an opinion on what witchcraft was, what it entailed, and who could wield it. I was lost in a sea of contradictions with no yardstick by which to measure.

After visiting hundreds of websites, one kept drawing me back. I can’t explain why, but I somehow knew it would be the site to help me. Then, after hours of clicking from one page to the next, feeling like a second grader sitting in on a high school physics class, I gave up. I clicked the “contact” button and sent an email to whomever it was that ran the site, introducing myself and asking for help.

And this is how I met a real life witch. Not the curious college student who sits in circles chanting prayers to Mother Earth while updating her Facebook profile to say Wiccan, but an honest-to-goodness, born-and-raised, magic-wielding witch.

After weeks of emails and conversations, lessons and corrections, I’m now thoroughly convinced that the truth is most definitely stranger than fiction, no matter what your choice of reading material. 

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