where the writers are
Fiction or Non-Fiction; That is the Question
Stories in Stone New York

I killed a guy last month. Let me explain.

 His name was Emil. Emil Duarte. He had lived for a good long time, 90 years in fact. And he really shouldn’t have been driving. But there he was, piloting his red, green and white (the colors of the Basque flag) 1947 Ford pickup down South Bridge Street in Winnemucca, Nevada and he missed the stop sign. He didn’t see the Winnemucca Farms semi-truck hauling a load of potatoes to the Pringles factory. Then wham!, Emil and his poly-chrome Ford get pancaked.

 To tell the truth, Emil had to go. I didn’t really have a choice. He was a nice guy, to be sure, and he will be mourned in due course. But his time had definitely expired. Emil had a piece of paper in his possession that would have solved a mystery. If Emil hadn’t been killed or if someone would have found the slip of paper on his corpse my hero would have solved the mystery and everyone would have lived happily ever after (except Emil, I suppose). The contents on the slip of paper would have pretty much wrapped up my novel. Problem is, I was 15,000 words into my novel when Emil took that fateful drive and 15,000 words does not a novel make; not even a novella. I’ve got about 65,000 words to go. Bye, bye, Emil. Now my hero has to solve the mystery without Emil’s help. He’s got 65,000 words to do it. Hope he doesn’t get killed in the process. You just never know.

 For the past quarter century I’ve eked out a living writing and photographing books; thirty-nine so far. Thirty-eight of those books are non-fiction, which means they are jammed-packed with facts. Another word for facts is truth. I have to do a lot of research and fact-checking when I write those books. And that’s a lot of dang work. I can never get up much of a head of steam before I have to start calling people, sending emails and browsing libraries and the Internet. Fact checking is a real momentum killer.

 If you are fortunate enough to get paid to write fiction you are essentially getting paid to lie. And it’s much more fun to lie.

 Consider this: Remember, that girl Mary Alice what’s-her-name who dissed you at the prom? It’s never too late for a character that bears an amazing resemblance to her to be the hapless victim of an unfortunate calamity. Plus, you can lay in wait for decades before you extract your vengeance. She’ll never see it coming.

 Or, maybe you create a character that looks a lot like you. A few keystrokes and bingo, he wins the lottery or hits the game-winning grand slam or saves the world from being taken over by ten-legged weasels who marched under the ocean from Shanghai using breathing apparatus constructed of discarded beer cans and hula hoops. When you write fiction, you can just make up stuff. The more ridiculous the better. Who knew lying could be so satisfying?

 Did I mention that I have a new book coming out? Well I do. My thirty-ninth book, Stories in Stone New York: A Field Guide to New York City Area Cemeteries and Their Residents would be released in October.

 Stories in Stone New York is non-fiction, which means it is awash with laboriously researched facts. It was a lot of work. Now I can get back to lying about potato truck-pancaked Emil or maybe the hula-hooped weasels. And, by the way, Mary Alice, I never liked you anyway.