Today's guest post is by Robert Eggleton, the author of Rarity from the Hollow, on the topic of fictionalised truths or perhaps more descriptively the ways that both reality and fiction can impact one another.
Fiction can speak truth. Sometimes by reading stories, reality slides in through a side door and presents itself with greater impact and meaning than any other way that we find it in life, such as by watching the TV news or studying research.
Of course, the extent that we recognize and accept truth that is in accordance with fact or reality is very personal. There is a subjective aspect that is dependent upon faith and beliefs as much as upon scientific evidence.
There’s a fancy term that could be applied to holding beliefs that fly in the face of reality: cognitive dissonance. For example, some scientists have accused some politicians of cognitive dissonance for denying evidence from studies on climate change.
Furthermore, humans have a powerful and essential psychological defense mechanism that is used unconsciously – DENIAL. Some truth is just too hot to handle. Denial naturally and healthfully reduces anxiety arising from unacceptable or potentially harmful stimuli, such as truth that we are not equipped to face.
Reality presented through artfully crafted fiction can be less threatening – a less direct challenge to our beliefs about oneself and the world. A reader can simply close the cover when a little outside of one’s comfort zone, give it a rest and pick back up on the story when ready. With a fictional story, we are in control. There’s nobody to argue with if we don’t want to. We can just stop reading and give truth time to become digested and accepted or rejected over time.
Some fiction prompts one to think about life and the issues that it presents, while other stories entertain us by presenting a short-term opportunity to escape from life stress. Some are quick and easy reads, the story ends when the last page has been read. Other stories reassert messages that we appreciate for a lifetime. Both reading experiences are valuable and mostly we find some measure of our own truths within both literary and genre fiction.
I’m a retired children’s psychotherapist with a lifelong dream of becoming an author, but who didn’t begin writing fiction for publication until late in life. I tried to ignore the voices in my head and attempted to write the type of novels that I knew were most popular, romance and young adult stories. It didn’t work. What really kicked my butt and inspired me to write Rarity from the Hollow, my debut novel, an adult literary science fiction story, was a skinny little girl with long brown hair, a victim of child abuse – one of the strongest persons that I’ve ever met.
In 2002, I accepted a position as a therapist for an intensive mental health, day treatment program for kids. Most of the children had been abused, some sexually. Part of my job was to facilitate group therapy sessions. One day in 2006 during a group session, I was sitting around a table used for written therapeutic exercises when a little girl, who instead of just disclosing the horrors of her abuse at the hands of the meanest daddy on Earth, also spoke of her hopes and dreams for the future: finding a loving family to protect her.
My protagonist was born that day – an empowered victim who takes on the evils of the universe: Lacy Dawn. My productivity as a writer immediately increased because I had found a cause that I could believe in and that compelled me forward. I began to write fiction in the evenings and sometimes went to work the next day without enough sleep. To totally lock myself in to completing the project, I decided to dedicate author proceeds to the prevention of child abuse – a commitment that nobody could turn one’s back on. The Lacy Dawn character, like so many other maltreated children that I’d met during my career, started to become too complicated. I wanted to stick with a simple story. It seems that many consumers of fictionalised truths increasingly value simplicity, as evidenced by short tweets, blurbs…even the television news is reduced to sound bites with little time for much more than reaction before the next topic.
Once the novel was completed, I anticipated that an editor might instruct me to “keep it simple” if accepted for consideration. I cut, cut, and cut, but, I just couldn’t oversimplify the truth when writing Rarity from the Hollow. Life is just so complicated. With tragedy to parody, satiric dark comedy, the novel developed to include commentary not only about child maltreatment, but also about poverty, PTSD experienced by Vets, domestic violence, mental health issues and political ones too.
“…You will enjoy the ride with Lacy Dawn, her family and friends, but don’t expect the ride to be without a few bumps, and enough food for thought to last you a long time.” — Darrell Bain, Award Winning Author
The truth was that in real life, Lacy Dawn’s father was a disabled Vet who experienced flashbacks and anger outbursts. Her family lived in an impoverished hollow with little economic opportunity. It all affected her performance and behavior in school, which influenced peer relationships, including viewpoints on romance and teenage pregnancy. That's why I wanted to write about important issues that one person may think support a particular position but the next reader finds the opposite because I don’t have the answers to the most important questions and challenges that humans face.
With mixed feelings, I submitted the first draft of my debut novel to an agent, Robert Stephenson from Australia. I knew that something was wrong with the story at the time and he confirmed that Rarity from the Hollow was just too tragic – too sad. I agreed to rewrite because as it was the story would trigger both cognitive dissonance and denial. So when rewriting my novel I wanted to get as far away as I could from it being perceived as an exposé or a memoir. For the truths to slip in through the side doors, the story had to be fun to read while not losing the tragedy.
The SF/F backdrop for Rarity from the Hollow was selected because it was the best fit by process of elimination. The story includes early scenes and references to tragedies in contemporary America. As such, it was not a good fit to the historical or western genres, although the social problems addressed in the story have existed throughout history, and are not restrained by our world’s geography, cultures, or religions.
The story had to be hopeful; Lacy Dawn and her traumatised teammates needed fantastical elements to achieve empowerment. But, as in life, one cannot overcome barriers by simply imagining them away. That’s where the science fiction came into play. It provided a power source. I tied the science fiction to capitalism because in today’s reality it will take significant financial investment by benefactors to improve the welfare of children in the world, and to invest in economic development.
As symbolised in the story, the systems in place to help victims are woefully inadequate. The intent of the novel was to sensitise people to the issue of child maltreatment the way that Charles Dickens’ Tiny Tim worked his way into the hearts of millions of fans.
I’ve read every single book review, glowing and critical. Based on the receptiveness of book bloggers and book reviewers to this novel, and input from reviews, a decision was made to republish Rarity from the Hollow. The second edition is scheduled for release on September 30, 2016. The book cover was changed a little to emphasise that it is a children's story for adults with a science fiction backdrop. A new blurb was written. Some of the stronger language was toned down a little, the political allegory was strengthened, and a formatting problem which affected the internal dialogue in the first edition was corrected.
I’m very proud of this book. I am forever indebted to the real-life Lacy Dawn. Life’s funny, ain’t it? Sometimes when you lend a helping hand, you benefit many times over.
Author proceeds have been donated to child abuse prevention. Children’s Home Society of West Virginia is a nonprofit children’s services program. It was established in 1893 and currently serves over 13,000 children and families each year. http://childhswv.org/ You can buy Rarity from the Hollow here.
[Edited for length and/or clarity]