We all have some experience with bells. I know of a little glass one, for example, that was rung discretely at a Central Park West dining table to beckon the servant. And another that jingled so engagingly when a particular pastry shop door opened on the Left Bank of Paris. The first bell speaks to privilege and the latter is reminiscent of youthful romance. But there were more profound bells in my life.
When I was young, I summered on the shores of Lake Erie and roamed what, to my child’s eye, was a vast amount of leafy acreage. And when it was time for dinner, my grandmother rang a loud and beat-up cowbell, and I came running.
Fast forward some forty years, and I’m raising my kids on a lake with leafy acreage here in Vermont. And there’s a bell mounted to a tree, down by the water. Apart from its various uses in various games, its prime purpose is to sound an alarm if someone falls off a swing, or gets stung by a bee, or otherwise runs into trouble, as it’s a long way up the hill to make such announcements in person.
It’s a lovely, sonorous sound, and like the cowbell of old, it’s emblematic of connection between parent and child, caring, and communication—subjects that run deep.
Now, what if I were to use a bell in something I was writing? I could choose an ornamental expression of it, but I could also call upon the most profound of my bell images—the one that speaks of connection—and reinvent it to fit the story.
What would I call that bell? Is it nonfiction? Is it fiction? Is it some hybrid fusion of genres that booksellers have no idea how to treat?
Call it fiction and, possibly, add an appropriate tagline, like “based on a true story,” or write up your equivocal thoughts about it in an author’s note, attached as an addendum. (I always read the author’s notes, by the way, and maybe even first.)
But until we get a well-established “mostly fiction” (“faction”) category, or a “somewhat autobiographical” genre, or “the whole truth, so help me God” category, a fiction label is the only choice, even if, in blending fact and fiction, you get closer to the gospel truth than either, by itself, would allow.
Interested in hearing more about truth in art, and art used to tell the truth? Go here, where you’ll find a short clip on the Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei. He makes the point that if you’re not telling the truth, big or small, what are you?
What are you writing these days? Fact, fiction, or something even closer to the truth?
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Photo credits: Bell with beaded cord – rockdoggydog; cowbell – soil-net.com