Guest Blogger Shelley Blanton-Stroud on Fact and Truth, Fiction and Nonfiction
t took me quite a while to figure out what my book, Copy Boy, would be, my trouble mostly arising from the gap between fact and truth. Facts are verifiable things. Truth is the meaning an individual makes of the facts we choose to consider.
I first began to write ten years ago by focusing on my own family’s history of moving west to California from Texas and Oklahoma in the Dust Bowl exodus of Okies looking for work in the Great Depression. I was thinking about a memoir because I had access to the facts. My father, especially, had dramatic stories to tell, one of which now sets my book in motion. But it soon became obvious that the “facts” changed in his every retelling—how old he was, exactly where the incident took place. And the facts really changed when my father’s siblings shared their versions of the family story. That’s what happens with memory and with storytelling. Though I knew my father was telling his truth, I was unsure of what the facts really were. I didn’t think I could get a memoir right.
I’ve always been drawn to the topic of resilience—it’s the heart of my family’s origin story.
I grew up in Bakersfield, California, surrounded by grannies, grandpas, aunts, uncles, and cousins, whose shared history was a Route 66 migration out of Texas and Oklahoma during the 1930s and 40s Dust Bowl, when nearly-biblical drought combined with failed farming practices to make the land go barren. This was my family’s slice of the Great Depression.
Grown-up talk around plates of Thanksgiving turkey often turned on that escape from dried-up farmland, villainous bankers, untrustworthy government, toward California, where orchards were said to overflow with oranges and there was a fair paycheck for every hard worker.
When children are supported in a creative writing practice, they then begin to understand that their own voice is important, that they have a right to use it, that they have reason to use it. They can see through the writing and sharing of their own creative ideas in a positive setting that their words have power. And there is very little the world needs now more than for children to believe in their own power to make positive change, to move mountains and molecules with their words.
“..this genus seemed to like the burn, feeding on food made by the death of their host trees, seizing the moment of abundant destruction and few competitors. They thrived without human help or interference, the successful fruiting of an underlying organism that remained invisible. This was something she understood.”
Jennie sat alone on a blue velvet cushion in a restored steam-powered hearse, on the ground floor of Alex Jordan Junior’s warehouse, on the hot July afternoon of the funeral of her father-in-law, Alexander Jordan Senior, who never did acknowledge Jennie as his daughter-in-law, which was why she was here, miles away, on a cushion in the hearse, at the base of an airless warehouse, rather than on a pew at his service.
One September night after picking, arms sticky yellow, tomato leaf smell of piney, bitter sunlight under her fingernails, Jane walked home along the river, which was finally slowing after months of running fast and clean with melted Sierra snow. In Indian summer, when the grass bleached white and the blue burnt out of the sky, Jane looked down as she walked, even at night, in case a rattler stretched fat across the path in the heat…
(Excerpt from Copy Boy, a novel to be published by She Writes Press in June 2020)
Birthing the Girl in the Bubble
From Aethlon: Journal of Sports Literature,February 2019, print journal.
No hero or villain emerges complete, herself, at birth. First there’s the womb and the prostate. Every Tiger has his Earl. Every hero, every villain, has parents, who were themselves heroes or heroines of their own fairy tales. For Bela Steinhart’s true story, you have to go back to Prague in the eighties…
I watch and record unobtrusively from a hard leather chair just behind them, invisible in my middle age, which I believe I have turned into an advantage…
I fidgeted in the lobby of an arty Louisville hotel, waiting for the limousine that would take me on an eight-hour bourbon distillery ride, beginning at Buffalo Trace, maker of Blanton’s Single Barrel Bourbon…
The dining room windows of Wendy’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers beam light onto the last cars in the lot—a pale-blue Pinto, a red Camaro, and a gray Buick Riviera, floorboard littered with Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne and Earth, Wind and Fire eight tracks. The Buick’s mine. I’m the manager. In two weeks I’ll quit to go back to college…
Just after midnight on my thirteenth birthday, I woke in the Studebaker to a scream—Janie!—though I couldn’t say at first who it was, Momma or Daddy.
In the Warm, Salty Water
“If a great white got into this cove, man, its jaws would chomp our whole family! All of us! We’d just be bleeding all over, screaming under water.” My oldest son, Seven, waved his arms in the air, writhing in slow motion. “That would attract a frenzy of sharks!” Now Seven whipped around, chomping his teeth, a shark devouring the boy version of himself.
No, the doctor says, when I ask, Is everything all right? His shiny bald head rises up between my wide-spread knees, a perfect red balloon hanging over the ball of my belly, his mouth in the shape of no…