Today I’m hosting author, Maggie Kast
Maggie Kast is the author of The Crack between the Worlds: a dancer’s memoir of loss, faith and family, published by Wipf and Stock. She received an M.F.A. in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts and has published fiction in The Sun, Nimrod, Carve, Paper Street and others.
A chapter of her memoir, published in ACM/Another Chicago Magazine, won a Literary Award from the Illinois Arts Council and a Pushcart nomination. A story published in Rosebud and judged by Ursula Leguin won an Honorable Mention in their fantasy fiction contest.
Kast’s essays have appeared in America, Image, Writer’s Chronicle and elsewhere. Her first novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, is forthcoming from Fomite Press in November 2015. An excerpted story, “The Hate that Chills,” won 3rd prize in the Hackney Literary Contests and is forthcoming in the Birmingham Arts Journal.
When Is Fiction Fact?
The firm line between fact and fiction is a feature of our time, but it wasn’t always so. While researching my new novel, A Free, Unsullied Land, I read books published in the 1930s, the time of my story. Among them was Lilo Linke’s Restless Days: a German Girl’s Autobiography.
Most reviewers read it as a document of life in Germany at the time. It describes extreme inflation and hunger during the years preceding Hitler’s rise to power, the author’s rejection of Nazi ideology and her travels with the young people’s outdoor organization called Wandervogel. But no one questions whether Linke made things up. The German Wikipedia page calls the book a Schlüsselroman or key novel. In English we name this genre using French, roman à clef, meaning a novel about real life overlaid with a façade of fiction. The key is the relationship between fact and fiction.
So is Restless Days true, and why does it matter? It’s hard, maybe impossible, to say where fact gives way to fiction in this book. Creative non-fiction has only recently been recognized as a genre, and its rules, namely “You can’t make this stuff up,” were not important to Lilo Linke’s readers. Some modern non-fiction writers, like Lauren Slater in her memoir Lying: a Metaphorical Memoir choose to ignore the rules and rely on metaphor rather than fact to make meaning. I love the book and share it’s sense of truth revealed in metaphor, but I also share today’s desire to know what’s actual. And when I write I follow the rules as best I can. My memoir, The Crack between the Worlds: a dancer’s memoir of loss, faith and family, tells only what actually happened.
Fact plays a role in fiction as well, though not the way one might expect. Including an event in a story “because it happened” is the worst possible justification. Events must be believable, not true; like the actual world (verisimilar) but not themselves actual. But when stories are based on historical events, I find it thrilling to see the evidence, like photos of the people on whom characters are based.
In a historical novel like mine verisimilitude is especially challenging. I needed to get the smell and feel and sounds and tastes of the ‘30s in Chicago and I wanted my characters immersed in the historical events of the period, like the unfair trials and convictions of the so-called Scottsboro Boys. I wanted them to meet historical characters like W.E.B. Dubois.
Why my interest in the ‘30s? My mother died in 2003 and her saved letters came to me, most written in that time. In them I discovered a young woman I never knew, a bright, sassy, irreverent girl who drank in speakeasies, flirted with professors and galloped on horseback across the New Mexican desert. (Don’t look for that event in the book. Like so much that really happened, it had to be slashed.) In actuality that girl tamed herself to become my responsible mother. I wanted to give her a fictional life on the page, to take her on adventures she would never have dared, to reveal secrets she would never have spoken. Henriette Greenberg, my protagonist, is compounded of me, people of the period, people I’ve known, and people of whom I’ve dreamed. She is not my mother, and her adventures are entirely invented. I’ve described well-known places as accurately as I could, and I’ve searched for actual words spoken by the historical figures I’ve used. And occasionally, when the words in my mother’s letters were too deliciously expressive of both her gifts and burdens, I stole them word for word.
Website URL: maggiekast.com