Thursday, September 1, 2016


 Or to put it another way—when does a memoir or biography become fiction? I like books labeled as non-fiction to be just that, but I like lots of facts in fiction.

I’m sure many of you will disagree with me because you love to escape into a different world when you read. However, Downton Abbey would lose its zing if costumes, sites, and key historic events in WWI and the flu epidemic of 1918 weren’t described correctly. Even fantasy novels are enhanced by a few facts. The evacuation of children to from London during the Nazi blitzkrieg is the basis of CS Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.

Points to consider when including facts in fiction
1. Create a strong plot, and #insert facts to create realistic characters.
I’ll give an example from Malignancy. In this thriller, a woman scientist tries to escape the clutches of a drug lord and accepts a State Department assignment to set up scientific exchanges between the U.S. and Cuba. However, the scientific community is less safe than she expected.

That’s the plot. One of Sara’s surprises is Cuban researchers have patented a vaccine that is thought to strengthen patients’ immune response against a certain type of lung cancer. (Fact: The cancer vaccine Racotumomab is in clinical trials now world wide.). Other surprises involve her love interest and the dug czar. They are not based on facts. The scientific facts allow me to show Sara’s expertise and ingenuity. They also keep her from being a busy body, who wouldn’t be included in real exchanges among “diplomats” from Cuba and the U.S.

2. Pick #relevant and exciting topics.
A great author can make any topic interesting but most of us aren’t great writers. Readers are more apt to be interested in tales based on intrinsically interesting issues—global warming or curing cancer. Michael Chrichton (Jurassic Park), Robin Cook (Coma), and Ian McEwan (Solar) were particularly skillful at selecting scary high-tech issues for their thrillers.

3. #Use facts to turn locations into strong characters.
Realistic locations improve any novel. Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises would be pretty boring without the hypnotic descriptions of the Festival of San Fermín in Pamplona. The decadence and beauty of Venice set the mood for Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. The Cuba (I visited three years ago and depicted in Malignancy) is surprising and probably transient.

4. Be as accurate as possible.
A writer of thrillers told me recently that readers accept a couple inaccuracies in a novel if you have stated most of the information correctly. I don’t know if that’s true. Certainly, Dan Brown has been criticized for inaccurate historical information in his best selling novel, The DaVinci Code, but he certainly included enough facts to ignite readers’ interest.

Why not pick up copies of Malignancy and see if you like facts in fiction, too? Malignancy won first prize in the 2015 Public Safety Writers annual contest.

Malignancy is available at Amazon