Monday, June 30, 2008

Am I On the Right Track?

I want to start by thanking everyone who was kind enough to give me advice on my family history dilemma. Chery, footnoteMaven, Wendy, Apple, Lillie, Bob, Diane, Carol, and Bronwyn... thank you very much! I really appreciate your thoughtful comments. You guys are the best!

I had a big huge smile on my face after reading Chery and fM's comments. I have never heard of the term "creative nonfiction" before but it turns out that both of the novels I wrote for NaNoWriMo (2005 & 2006) seem to be just that. So I guess that means I've already written my family histories and can take the rest of the summer off. :-D


Actually, I'm not kidding about my two novels being "creative nonfiction". I think they really may be just that. I wasn't aware that the term/concept existed when I wrote my novels or that's what I would have called them. I am going to order the book fM recommended (Keep It Real: Everything You Need to Know About Researching and Writing Creative Nonfiction ) to learn more about this genre of writing before I make any other plans. It would be so cool to use the novel I've written about my Lipa family as a part of the official family history. Perhaps I could just add a few chapters to what I've already got and save myself a lot of writing. Wow! I am so excited about that idea!

But I don't want to get ahead of myself here. I'm going to do some more reading and research about creative nonfiction before I decide if that's what I want to do with my family history. Maybe those of you who are more familiar with the concept of creative nonfiction can let me know if I'm on track with my thinking. Here's a synopsis of what my 2nd novel, Hear the Linden Tree was about...

Setting: Late 1880s in Detroit's east side Polish community

The main character is Ludwika Lipa (my great grandmother). She's a member of a local church (real church) at a very turbulent time in it's history (true). The story has Ludwika developing a fondness/infatuation with the charasmatic and controversial pastor of the church (real person) and at the time of those developing feelings she experiences flashbacks to her life as a young girl back in Poland and her first infatuation with none other than the lord of the manor where her family lived and worked (real person). Meanwhile, the church and the pastor go through several violent and even deadly episodes (true) resulting in the excommunication of the entire parish (true).

The novel has high drama and passion, violence (but not grusomness) and sexuality. The church related historical events were all real. My ancestors were all real. The part I took the liberty of writing is the plot that put my ancestors into the events of the day. I invented diaglogue, feelings, and relationships that were all plausible. I put them in places and situations where they could really have been but I have no evidence suggesting that they actually were (like among hundreds of protesting rioters or among thousands attending a given Mass). The story took place over several years and all the while I included real life events that happened to Ludwika (birth of children, death and marriage of family members, etc.) and real events that happened in the city of Detroit at the time.

I always thought that if you invented any elements of a story it was considered fiction. So I've always thought of my novels as historical fiction. But truthfully, there's much more truth than fiction to my stories. Of course I have no idea if my great grandmother had a crush on the charasmatic and controversial pastor of her parish in Detroit or the lord of the manor her family served in Poland. I'm not trying to minimize or in any way diminish the fiction of the story. It's there and you can't miss it. But I was very, very careful to not alter the times/dates/places of actual historical events or the known details of my Lipa family history.

So what do you think? Does my novel fit with the creative nonfiction genre?

(I know I'm going to catch heck from die hard historians on the idea of introducing even a hint of fiction into a family history, so go ahead and let me have it... but try to be kind in the way you deliver your criticism ;-)