The wife was awakened in the middle of the night and rushed to the kitchen. Investigators were waiting and told her that the plane her husband was piloting went missing off the radar. He, along with all the passengers, perished.
Anita Shreve wrote her novel The Pilot’s Wife in 1998, years before the missing airliner Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.
Fiction can’t be fake and appeal to a reader. I learned this during a comedy writing class I took with Danny Simon, the late brother to the late great American playwright Neil Simon.
Some element in any genre must relate to the reader, an experience they find in their own lives. Even science fiction. I’ve been writing a detective series since January 2015 with Lon Casler Bixby and it struck me that crime fiction can illustrate truth and even give hope in resolving conflict.
Here are 2 scenarios from our Tom Stone detective stories which are written to entertaintain and not just “teach” a lesson. But in crafting the stories, I found 3 truths that surfaced.
The Importance of Home
This is a scene from Tom Stone Nitty Gritty Christmas. My wife and I have adopted out of foster care and are familiar with group homes. I believe kids want a loving home environment, even if they can’t articulate it.
Background: Tom Stone and his partner Jake Sharpe are handing out gifts on Christmas Eve at Ivy Acres — a group home in the San Fernando Valley, just north of downtown Los Angeles — and Stone comes across a boy who catches his attention:
Quiet settled over the crowd except for one boy with tight curly hair sitting at a table closest to the tree. He jumped up and started walking toward the door and a mini-drama ensued when the staffer who had given out the candy reached for him.
“Yo, Andrew. Come back here. Where you going? You’re going to miss out.”
“Let me go.” His skin seemed to glow with the best qualities of what looked like a black and white heritage.
“Shh, it’s okay.” The man settled Andrew at another table and then returned to his own seat.
The boy jumped up again. Each of the tables had a pile of candy in the middle and another staff member grabbed a candy bar and showed it to Andrew.
“Sit down for Santa, Andy. Come on, man, be good and you can eat one of these.”
Stone moved closer, as if by instinct to look in on a disturbance.
“I don’t want Santa. I want to go home.” Andrew grabbed the candy bar, ripped open the wrapping and stuffed it in his mouth.
A boy sitting across the table spoke matter-of-factly. “This is our home.”
Stone felt a chill.
The second excerpt is one that parents will identify with. In Tom Stone: Sweltering Summer Nights,
Background: Detective Tom Stone founds his high school age daughter visiting the marijuana dispensary of his nemesis. Toward the end of the story, he is able to speak with her.
All relationships were tough, but talking to a sullen teenager who was grounded was one of the most challenging to negotiate.
“Meagan. I know that a little drinking and smoking pot doesn’t seem like a big deal. I’ve seen it creep on people and it does become a big deal. It gets them off track and their lives are ruined. I mean, what should I do as a dad?
It’s not an easy choice. I could just shrug my shoulders and not worry about anything, not worry about you or worry about Carly. But we wouldn’t have a relationship that way.
“It’s inside a healthy parent to want to care and I’m trying to strike a balance. I know that I shouldn’t get overbearing. But if I care too little then I’m off in my world and you’re off in yours.
I don’t want that, either. So it’s easy to mess up. I mean, real easy. For me, though, this was a no-brainer. I don’t want drinking and getting high to become a routine part of your life. You mean too much to me.”
Meagan listened, seemed to think about her dad’s passion, and relented. “Okay, Dad. I get it. I don’t like it. But I get it. You’re trying to keep me safe.”
“Trying. Without making you too angry.”
“Yeah, well. I can’t guarantee that I always want to go along with the program.”
“Understood.” Stone nodded as a bite of ice cream slipped off his spoon and onto the floor. Silver lapped it up like a frog zapping a bug.
“But all of this is your way of saying that you want the best for me, right?” Meagan sounded resigned.
“Yippee.” Meagan’s matter-of-fact tone was ripe with sarcasm. “Okay. You don’t want me smoking pot or getting drunk?”
“Should I ask if that’s something you did in high school?”
“I had my moments. Like you’ve had yours. But they were only moments. And on one occasion I came home after having too much to drink and stumbled through the screen door in Grandpa’s house. Ripped a big hole in it and fell on my face in the entryway.”
“Grandpa didn’t say anything except ‘Get to bed.’ He told me later that he was both amused and saddened when he watched me crawl up the stairs.
Said he had a weak, sick feeling as he realized he had no control in my decision-making. Even though I was hung over, he still got me up at six A.M. the next morning to help build a retaining wall in the yard.”
“So you’re not trying to control me?”
“No. I’m trying to guide you.”
“Honestly, Dad. Don’t worry. Look. I’m sorry I got you so upset. I just feel like I’m smart enough to handle myself.”
“I’m sure you are. But experience gives a different perspective. Let’s agree on this, Meagan. I’ll give you freedom to make your choices. Drugs of all kinds are off limits. Okay?”
“And if you have questions or concerns then come and ask me. I’ll treat you fairly. I love you and I want the best for you.”
Meagan nodded. “Sounds fair, Dad. Have fun tonight.”
Experiences that the reader can relate to illustrate truth in fiction without being preachy, but authentic. Memorable characters and a well-written story line bring that truth alive.