Finding Story in the Facts

You, The Story (sub-titled, A Writer’s Guide to Craft through Memory) by Ruta Sepetys, was a slow read … not because it was difficult or tedious … but because it was affirming and comforting. It reminded me to trust my gut, to go with my instincts and to believe in my own story. Sprinkled throughout with user-friendly exercises, the book's a great resource … especially for beginners (of any age).  And what an interesting cover!

Sepetys, author of a couple of my favourite novels set in eastern Europe: Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray gives plenty of examples to showcase the power of perspective. She offers tips on using detail … “specificity is authenticity” (page 33), about dialogue, setting and courage. She reminds us that failure is a prerequisite to success.  

We manipulate truth ... we pick and choose memories to highlight our narrative. As writers of fiction we can shine the light on the parts that will move the story forward. 

I just finished reading Anne Berest’s new book, The Postcard—(again with an incredible cover!) a novel strongly inspired by memory. In fact, it’s curious that it says ‘a novel’ on the cover, rather than 'a memoir'.  Some readers, including a good friend of mine, say they have no time for fiction ... for make-believe, for pretend. I tend to disagree. It's through the ART of fiction that truth can be told. The Postcard is a prime example of Ruta Sepetys’ nonfiction guide to exploring memory. 


Both books, inspire me to continue solving my own family mysteries … one of which was also precipitated by a postcard. The postcard was from Berlin and arrived shortly after my father’s death in 1993. With the recent collapse of the Berlin wall, my father’s ex-wife had returned to  the city to remember. Her postcard stirred up memories about my father’s life in Nazi Germany when he'd had another family.  That postcard was a portal to a father I'd never known. 

Anne’s Berest’s novel, The Postcard, reads like a mystery and it explored aspects of the French experience of the war that I was unfamiliar with. Yes, that war is still relevant. 


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