I made an interesting discovery yesterday while cleaning off the kitchen counter (which has been unusually cluttered lately due to my lack of emotional energy to actually deal with all of that “stuff”). I found my calendar. Now you would think I’d have noticed that it’s been buried under bills and other debris long before now. But when I saw the week it was opened to, it made perfect sense to me. It was opened to a certain week in July.
My older sister died on July 25. It was a Monday and the week was fresh and full of possibilities. But then she didn’t wake up that morning. The possibilities turned into responsibilities as I poured my energy into assisting my parents with everything that accompanies an unexpected death in the family. Since then, when I’m not working or helping my parents, my mind has just not been functioning properly to get any fresh words down.
So yesterday, I flipped the calendar to this week. The current one. Sure, maybe I’ve skipped a couple of months of my writing life, but I’m feeling determined this morning to get back on the saddle. It’s time to revise my completed manuscripts and then plunge into some new ideas. Please wish me luck, and hold me accountable. If you see me (even virtually on Twitter or Facebook) please ask me how my writing is coming. So much of life is a mental game and writing books is certainly no exception.
As I open my documents this morning, I’ll be thinking about how proud my sister was of the books I’ve written and how much she loved reading new chapters as I finished them. I’d like to think that she’s cheering me on still as I attempt to get my head straight to write again. I have to believe that I still have stories to tell and people who want to read them. Mary Beth, this one’s for you!
I finished reading Wonder in March, but I can’t stop thinking about this book. I’ve recommended it to more people than I can keep track of. The ones who’ve read it get back to me and thank me for recommending it. The book is just that good. This book resonated with me for several reasons. First, I grew up in a family with a sister who had special needs. I also have a son with special needs. I’m a pediatric nurse who’s cared for children with the same kind of anomalies that the main character was born with. Finally, I taught elementary school for 4 years and high school for 1, and Ms. Palacio nails school dynamics beautifully.
If you haven’t read this wonderful book yet, here is a brief introduction: August Pullman has never been able to attend school due to his extensive medical needs. He was born with severe craniofacial anomalies, and has had many surgeries. At the opening of the story, his parents have decided to enroll him in a private school. Auggie is nervous about how the other kids are going to respond to him. The principal picks three kids that he thinks will help ease the transition for Auggie, but it doesn’t work out so well. (It’s more complicated than that, but I don’t want to give spoilers!) However, there is another student named Summer who befriends Auggie without prompting from anyone. Through the narrative, the reader becomes a part of the Pullman family as well as their extended family and friends.
The story unfolds through multiple perspectives. Even though Auggie is an extremely observant kid, there is no way he could know the motivations and back story for every other character in the book. Palacio beautifully puts us inside the head of each character, and this is one of the reasons this book has such a huge heart. No one is a cliché, but a fully developed character with motivations guiding their behaviors.
The book is written with humor. Even though I cried in many places, this book is not in the least bit depressing. The Pullman family relies on humor to get them through the tough times. I came to love this family so much. They made mistakes and they didn’t always agree. But they loved each other and it comes across so beautifully in the writing.
The beautiful writing itself makes the book a pleasure to read. In the very beginning of the book, Auggie tells us, “the only reason I’m not ordinary is that no one else sees me that way.” He is perceptive and notices the way others react to him. He also shares at one point that if he had a magic lamp, he’d wish for an ordinary face. Being inside of Auggie’s head doesn’t feel like a pity party. But the frustration he feels that even his own family doesn’t seem to be able to allow him to be “normal” comes across beautifully. It’s gut wrenching, but at the same time it’s hopeful.
Via’s experiences were the ones that resonated the strongest for me because this teenage character is able to put her family’s existence into words better than I’ve ever been able to. When it’s Via’s turn to tell the story, she compares her family to a solar system. “August is the Sun. Me and Mom and Dad are planets orbiting the Sun. The rest of our family and friends are asteroids and comets floating around the planets orbiting the Sun.” Wow.
Another beautiful part of Wonder that was especially meaningful for me was the relationship between Via and her grandmother. In her early years, having her grandmother’s unconditional love and adoration helped to offset the dynamics of her nuclear family. My grandmother was exactly this for me. And just like Via, she died unexpectedly when I needed her support the most. Via’s grandmother shares a secret with her about why she feels the way she does. “I love Auggie very, very much,…but he has many angels looking out for him already, Via. And I want you to know that you have me looking out for you.”
This book is “real” in every since. Palacio doesn’t sugar coat anything. She allows Auggie to be resentful of “normal” kids at times. Via feels betrayed by her mom at times when she focuses so much attention on Auggie and his needs. The parents have arguments. Some kids are just plain mean, because let’s be honest, some kids just are. Perhaps the best part of the authenticity of Wonder is that is shows how acts of kindness that might seem small at the time, can have an enormous impact on someone who needed the kindness. In fact, this book started the Choose Kind movement through American schools.
To say that I recommend this book is an understatement. If you haven’t read it, you can go here for more information from the book’s publisher. If you have read it, please share your comments. I’d love to hear from you.
I was fortunate enough to attend my first Dragon Con last weekend in Atlanta with my family. This was the 30th anniversary of the pop culture, fantasy, and sci-fi convention, and I was joined by more than 77,000 others on this adventure. According the the post- convention press release, “Fans came from around the world and all 50 states, with this year’s convention attracting people from as far away as Japan, New Zealand, and Fiji.” In other words, I was in good company.
What I knew about Dragon Con is that people engaged in cosplay–dressing up as their favorite characters from movies, comics, television programs, video games, and just about anything that reflects their interests. I knew this because I’ve assisted my young adult kids in making these costumes and/or purchasing items to make them look authentic. I vaguely knew that they held panels for people interested in writing because my daughter, who volunteered this year in media relations at the con, had told me about them last year.
What I didn’t know about Dragon Con could fill Lake Michigan. Here’s just a few facts that I found impressive.
The con has it own awards/recognition program called Dragon Awards. These recognize the creators of science fiction and fantasy in books, comic books, games and filmed entertainment.
The con raises money for charity. According to the press release, $98,000 was raised this year for its 2016 official charity, the Atlanta Center for Self Sufficiency, which helps put homeless individuals on a pathway to achieving a healthy independence.
The con attracts famous actors, writers, producers, etc. There was some serious talent in that place. There are far too many to name, but a few of the individuals that I’ve watched in television during my lifetime were in attendance such as Alex Kingston, William Shatner, Gillian Anderson, and Jason Isaacs and Adam Baldwin. There was a pool of talent at the con that would appeal to people of all ages and interests.
The sheer size of the con! I mentioned the numbers above, but nothing would prepare you for how many individuals (costumed or not) were crowded into a huge area of Atlanta. Event organizers added more than 215,000 square feet to the venues, including the AmericasMart Building 2. The con consumed meeting space in the Sheraton, Marriott Marquis, Westin, Hyatt and the AmericasMart buildings.
The con is quite civic minded. In addition to the fundraising efforts, there was a blood drive held in which over 6,000 units of blood and blood products were donated to an Atlanta blood bank. Also, disability services were visible everywhere and provided assistance to individuals with special mobility/seating needs.
The diversity of the people attracted by Dragon Con was one of my biggest surprises. There were people there who were less than half my age as well as people (almost!) twice my age. There were people there of every race, gender and socioeconomic level. Some costumes were Captain America shirts from Walmart and some looked professionally made to the cost of thousands. The attendees for the most part were gracious with posing for pictures, and seemingly unflustered by the long (and I mean long!) lines, wait times and sheer crowds you had to part to just move anywhere. I loved seeing families there with their kids, all in costume having a great time.
I’m saving the best for last. 🙂 I was stunned at the writing community that was in attendance. There were some terrific panels at the con on the writing craft as well as specific elements of publishing. Brandon Sanderson, who is probably best known for finishing Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy series, The Wheel of Time, was on a panel that I attended. I ran into him outside of one of the hotels and he was warm and gracious in answering a question and then chatting for several minutes. The authors who attended seemed very willing to interact and share insights with attendees. I was impressed with the breadth of options of panels to attend that focused on writing.
My takeaway from Dragon Con 2016 is that there is truly something for everyone there. If you’ve ever read or watched anything related to science fiction or fantasy, if you’ve ever watched superhero movies or read comics, if you enjoy art or especially if you like people watching–this is the place to be during Labor Day weekend in Atlanta.
Have you been to Dragon Con or think you might be interested? If so, I’d love to hear your comments! For more information on Dragon Con 2017, please visit the website www.dragoncon.org for more information. You can also follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
As an author, a mom to a special needs son and a pediatric nurse, I am always on the lookout for books portray a realistic representation of the American demographic. We are not all “the same” and that is one of our country’s greatest strengths. One underrepresented group of kids that I’m particularly sensitive to are kids with ‘disabilities’ that make them look or act different from other kids. Here are some picture books for very young children that can begin to introduce characters with special needs in a positive light.
Keeping Up With Roo by Sharlee Glenn
I will admit that this book hits close to home. My older sister Mary Beth was always so excited to be an aunt. But each of her nieces and nephews, as they grew older, came to realize that she was different than other adults. This is what happens to the main character Gracie in this story when she starts school. When Gracie brings her friend Sarah home from school, she feels embarrassed about Roo’s behavior. Like all children who have a family member who is “different”, Gracie has to comes to to terms with her aunt’s differences and realize what is really important in life.
Susan Laughs by Jean Willis
I love the fact that this picture book focuses on all of the things the main character Susan does that are exactly like every other kid in the world. It isn’t until the very last page of the book that the reader will discover that Susan is in a wheelchair. I took care of a beautiful, smart and sassy little girl who uses a wheelchair and I see her on every page. I highly recommend this book to parents of preschoolers. When you reach the end of the book, the illustration of Susan in her wheelchair provides the perfect teachable moment to discuss all of the similarities Susan has with your own child.
3. My Brother Sammy Is Special by Becky Edwards
I love the way this book explores the complex sibling relationship that occurs when one of the sibling’s has special needs. Generally that sibling is parented differently, with a different set of rules and expectations. The author allows Sammy’s brother to express his resentment and frustration, but ultimately focuses on his love and concern for his brother. This book would be the perfect gift for any child with a special needs sibling.
4. Just Because by Rebecca Elliott
What I love most about this book is that the younger brother Toby is too young to understand exactly why his big sister Clemmie can’t do the things that other kids can–but he doesn’t need to. In his innocent and accepting heart, he just loves her like she is. The author depicts the positive things these siblings can do together, even if it isn’t what most siblings can do. The writing is beautiful and the illustrations are enchanting. Children with siblings like Clemmie are going to be faced with many challenges as time goes on, but this book’s purpose isn’t to tackle the hard stuff. It’s to focus on the love and affection that is at the heart of the sibling relationship. And it does it beautifully.
5. A Friend Like Simon by Kate Gaynor
This book doesn’t focus on the sibling relationship, but on the struggles kids on the autism spectrum have making friends at school. I love this book. I see so much of my own son in the character of Simon. This story is told from the perspective of a kid who is trying to be Simon’s friend at school. But it isn’t always easy. It takes more time and effort to get to know kids who are on the spectrum, but this book shows that it can often be well worth the effort. As a mom of a “Simon” myself, I appreciate the kids who make the effort.
6. The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
For any parent of a quiet child that’s felt left out of the “popular group” at school, this book is a true find. The illustrations by Patrice Barton add to the impact of the words because Brian (the invisible boy) starts out gray and becomes more colorful as he begins to see himself as fitting in with someone–anyone. This book truly shows that it only takes ONE kind child to reach out to an “invisible kid” and make them feel a part of a class. Parents, I urge you to teach your children to be this one child. There are “Brians” out there in every classroom. I’ve taught elementary school, and I’ve witnessed the change one child can make.
This list is certainly not inclusive of all the excellent books out there. However, these 5 titles resonated with me in a special way. If you have other books to recommend, please comment and let me know about them. I’d love to hear from you!
**Please note that I am not the copyright holder for any of these books, and am using the cover images to aid in readers locating the books at their local stores or libraries.
A few weeks ago, our pastor asked me to share a story or memory about my sister during her memorial service. I managed to pull myself together enough to share a story that took place at my grandfather’s funeral many years earlier. I’ve had people ask me about it, and share with me how much they enjoyed the story. So, in the words of Paul Harvey (who happened to be one of my grandfather’s favorites) here is “the rest of the story”.
September 12, 1981 was the day my childhood abruptly ended. It began as an almost idyllic Autumn Saturday. My mom had taken us to Stone Mountain Park for the Yellow Daisy Festival, and we had spent the morning browsing through rows of handmade crafts and funnel cakes.
When we got back to the house, my mom dropped us off the swim while she went grocery shopping. I was thirteen years old that day, but by the time the sun went down I felt about sixty. The sibling dynamic in my family had always been skewed because my older sister had been born two months early, leaving her with disabilities. I functioned as the oldest sibling, even though it was never acknowledged formally. On this fateful day, my sister Mary Beth had decided to stay inside while my younger brother and I swam. After about thirty minutes of enjoying our typical pool antics—cannon balls from the side, diving for rings, contests for holding one’s breath underwater, etc.—my sister appeared at the back door looking as if she’d seen a ghost.
“Some lady just called,” she announced in an unrecognizable tone, “and said that she’d ‘heard in passing’ that Grandpa died.” She looked as if she’d seen a ghost.
I swam to the side of the pool. “Grandpa Callaway?”
She swallowed hard, still pale and shell-shocked. “No. She said it was Grandpa Walter.” But this simply couldn’t be possible. My grandpa was a doctor who still saw patients every day. He was full of life. I’d spend the weekend before with them in the mountains and he’d been perfectly fine.
I was out of the pool and to the door within seconds. I didn’t even bother to completely dry off before rushing to the phone hanging on the wall of the kitchen. I punched in the numbers to my grandparent’s rambling old farmhouse in the mountains from memory. As the phone rang, I tried to think of a reason for calling. I surely couldn’t explain to Grandpa the real reason for my call. But he didn’t answer the phone that day and neither did my grandmother. At that moment, I just knew. The woman on the phone had been right. With my mom gone, I had to become the adult and hold things together until she got home and could find out what had happened. Once you take on the role of adult, there’s no going back to the innocence of childhood. I discovered this on that day.
The funeral was held at the church my grandparents had attended for years-a white frame building constructed in the early 1900s. It was traditional in every sense of the word. The day of the funeral, the place was packed. People stood along the sides and the back of the sanctuary, and people even stretched out the doors into the churchyard. After all, Doc Walter had treated most everyone in the valley at one time or another, having been the only doctor around for miles. People came out in droves to pay their last respects to the Doc.
My sister, Mary Beth, taped her favorite television programs years before anyone had ever thought to make VCRs. Armed with a Kmart cassette tape recorder, my sister would record an hour long program—the first half on side one of the cassette tape, and the rest of the show on side two. Of course, this meant you couldn’t talk, cough, or clear your throat during the entire program without suffering her withering stare and flapping hands to silence you. But come hell or high water, those shows were going to be taped. Mary Beth also traveled everywhere with her trusty tape recorder. So it was no surprise to anyone who knew her that she had it clutched in her arms when we walked into the church for the funeral.
Mary Beth had decided that we needed to record the funeral-partly because my grandmother was too distraught to attend. This task was delegated to my father—a man who has the biggest heart and the best of intentions, but doesn’t handle stress all that well. He scurried around through the packed room and placed the Kmart recorder on the top of the organ. He asked the organist, who was rather elderly, if she would please be kind enough to push the “record” button and the “play” button down when the service began. She nodded her agreement as she pounded out the hymns that the family had requested be played.
Everything seemed to be going according to plan until the organist reached up and hit the “play” button only—just as the family had been seated. Mary Beth had placed the cassette in the recorder on the “B” side, which contained the second half of a Little House on the Prairie episode that she’d previously recorded. She must have really wanted to have a recording of Grandpa’s funeral pretty badly if she was willing to tape over that show—it was her absolute favorite.
When the blood curdling screaming started , no one else in the church knew what was happening. They simply looked around the church, bewildered by the terrified sounding young girl’s voice screaming, “Pa, help me! Help me Pa, I’m blind. I can’t see!”
But we knew! We knew the minute we heard the voice of Melissa Sue Anderson, who portrayed Mary Ingalls on the popular show—the organist had hit only play rather than both record and play simultaneously.
Try to imagine a quiet, simple, mountain funeral suddenly and most unexpectedly, filled with the loud screams of a panicked young woman. You could see people mouthing the word, “Pa”—attempting in vain to discover who this “Pa” person was. Surprised and startled looks spurred my mother to jab Dad in the ribs, and he promptly pushed and shoved his way as gently as possible through the people obstructing his path to the organ.
As unobtrusively as possible, he pushed the “off” button on the tape recorder and weaved his way back to the front row of the church—only to find his oldest daughter hyperventilating and flapping her hands wildly, and his wife fixing him with her penetrating gaze.
“You turned it off,” my mother informed Dad. “Now it isn’t recording the funeral at all.”
The look on his face was a mixture of bewilderment, incredulity and hostility. I could literally see the gears of his mind churning in circles as he realized that Mom expected him to find a way back through the throng of mourners to turn the recorder back on—the correct way this time, in order to spare any further outbursts from Mary Ingalls. But he got up and did just that. And now you know the rest of the story.
So, it’s that time of year again. My Facebook feed is filled with posts and pictures of my dear friends leaving their kids at college. So much goes into that big day as any parent knows. I’ve been there and done that twice and it wasn’t easy either time. And endless loop of thoughts played through my head each time. Did I teach her/him enough? Does she/he know what to do in an emergency? What if she/he gets homesick but doesn’t call home?
My son has Asperger’s and we had to leave him at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. It was huge, busy, loud, and so terribly far from me. His mom. No one else knew him like me. But who was I to deny him his shot at this dream to go to Georgia Tech? Has it been easy? Heck no! That first year almost killed us both. But tomorrow he begins his junior year and he is still a Yellow Jacket through and through.
Flashback to 1986. What do you know? My mom felt the same way. She shared with me this journal entry that she wrote the day I started college. She gave me permission to include it in my blog.
I left her today.
So brave. So full of determination.
She’s waited so long for this day.
It has been so long coming and there has been so much pain along the way.
She stands perched on the brink of her future.
Eager, and just a little bit afraid.
She’s a college student at last.
I have to admit I got a bit choked up when I read my mom’s words written about me. She knew me much better than I gave her credit for.
Here’s to fresh starts and new beginnings. To every college student and college parent out there tonight, just know that you’re not alone. You’re in good company. Go out there and knock ’em dead kids!
My sister was older than me, so there’s never been a time in my life when she hasn’t been there. Until this past week. I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on her life and I want to take a minute to share some insights about what it’s like to live with a disability that makes you feel marginalized and even invisible.
Mary Beth was born in 1964 two months ahead of schedule. There were no neonatal intensive care units back then, so they just tried to keep her warm. She survived, but it was obvious by the time she started school that she had residual effects of her premature birth. Over the years I have watched her be cheated, robbed, beaten and worse. Thankfully most people in the world aren’t completely horrible and wouldn’t dream of doing things like that to a person with a disability. But there are plenty of decent people out there who just “didn’t see her.” And those are the people who can truly make a difference in the life of someone like Mary Beth.
On this day of her memorial service, I want to ask you for a favor. When you come across a person like my sister, take an extra moment to talk to her. Ask her about her hobbies. Ask her what TV shows she watches or books she reads. Ask her what kind of music she likes to listen to. And when she answers, just listen. Lately I’ve been replaying my last encounters with my sister and grading myself on how much effort I put into including her in conversations. And I don’t always score very highly. I’ve been wondering what it would feel like to sit there and listen to people talk about their careers, travel, kids, and other adventures when you don’t have those things. I’m so thankful for those people who invested their time and energy into her life.
On thing we can likely all agree on is that the world needs more kindness these days. This is one easy way to start spreading it around to those who need it the most.
Mary Beth, you were loved by so many people. You will be missed!
I’m not one to take big risks in my writing in general. My latest novel, and my first for middle grade readers is a bit of a detour in this area. I grew up in a middle class, white, Presbyterian household. My mom’s side of the family has been in this country since before the Revolutionary War. My dad’s came over from Scotland at some point, but I feel certain their culture and traditions were close to what we still follow in my family to this day. But here’s the thing. I’ve had this concept floating around in my head for over ten years about writing a novel about sisters. One sister was conceived out of desperation to offer the other sister a fighting chance at survival. When I first heard about the real life case of these sisters, I was enthralled. A family had a teenager with aggressive leukemia and the parents conceived a baby hoping she could donate bone marrow. There was controversy about the ethics of the parents’ decision and plenty of people weighed in with their views on television. (A follow up article with an update on the sisters appeared in the Los Angeles Times recently.)
A few years after I heard about this case, I saw an episode of E.R. (Season 7, The Greatest of Gifts) that depicts surgeon Peter Benton finding a small child hiding in a closet. He asks her where she is supposed to be and it turns out the child fled the oncology ward because she was scared of the big needles they put in her arms to give cells to her sister. When Dr. Benton attempts to explain to the girl’s mother that she feels like her feelings don’t matter, the mom gives him quite an earful about how tired she is of being judged. This brief subplot of the episode stoked the flames of interest in writing a story about the younger sister who was born to be a potential donor to the older one.
So why make my main character a different ethnicity than myself? According to the World Donor Marrow Association, while two out of three Caucasians find a match, the chances of a patient from another ethnic background can be as low as one in four. My nursing background has taught me that Hispanic people seem to find it hardest to get a perfect match. I’m soliciting Beta readers who are Mexican-American to help me create a believable character. It would be impossible for me to get all of the subtleties of the culture right if I don’t get the assistance of people who grew up in it. But, I’m glad I tackled this project. I’ve fallen in love with my characters and I think it will find a home in the hearts of some kids out there.
For my regular blog subscribers, this post is for the Pitch Wars community. But you might decide it’s worth the read anyway…. 😉
Hi Pitch Wars people, I’m Melissa and I would need about 20 lifetimes to experience everything that I want to! My bucket list could stretch from New York to California. Luckily my husband, kids and extended family just roll with it. My family is pretty cool and we were lucky enough to spend three years living in Europe where we traveled during basically every spare minute we had.
I’ve had a hard time deciding on a career because I want to do so many different things, but I’ve narrowed it down to 3. My undergrad degree is in Nursing and I’ve been a pediatric nurse for about 25 years, but I also love to teach so I went ahead and got a Masters in Education and taught fourth grade for a few years. Finally, I write books– which is incredibly fun and has brought some fabulous people into my life. However, when it comes to how to find an agent and enter into the traditional publishing world, I feel about like this:
My mom didn’t name me Grace for an excellent reason. I’m a complete klutz, and growing up in the south, I heard, “Bless your heart!” quite a bit. I’m pretty sure I have nine lives though because I’ve almost died about that many times–for real. I sledded under a barbed-wire fence, jumped from a thirty foot cliff into a small pool of water and missed all the rocks, was drug by the ankle under a horse running to the barn, spared by seconds from an inferno caused by a Sterno can flung into my Girl Scout tent at camp….I think you get the idea! It was probably Karma for teaching my kid brother how to fake unconsciousness to scare our teenage babysitters. My mom never could figure out why no one wanted to come back.
The book I’m entering into Pitch Wars is my first MG book. I wrote it during NaNoWriMo this past November and have been revising/editing and getting feedback from CPs on it ever since. The title of the novel is SPARE PARTS, which comes from a cruel nickname that my MC is labeled with by a bully. Here’s a little snippet.
During her older sister’s Quinceañera, eleven year old Esperanza (Espy) overhears a conversation that makes her wonder if her parents are keeping secrets from her. When her sister is diagnosed with an aggressive leukemia, Espy finally learns the truth: this is not the first time her sister Valerie has been sick. In fact, she had been conceived to save her sister’s life. Espy is filled with doubts, but knows she must be courageous and resourceful to help her family survive their latest crisis. She faces down judgmental critics of her parents’ decision, school and Internet bullies, her fears of medical procedures involving huge needles and plunges herself into doing whatever it takes to save Valerie’s life a second time. If she fails, she might lose her sister forever.
My years of Pediatric ICU nursing combined with my years of teaching elementary school give me a unique background to write Espy’s story. If a mentor picks me, he or she should know that I have thick skin (think crocodile thick!) and am not afraid of criticism. In every job I seek out mentors, and writing is no different. I welcome the expertise! I’m a member of SCBWI and recently attended a writer’s intensive on writing middle grade literature. I entered a YA Contemporary manuscript last year during Pitch Wars and did get one request for a full. It was a great experience and I’m excited to get back into it this year with a shiny new manuscript.
There’s no point in telling you what I like to read, because I read basically everything. 🙂 If anyone took the time to read this entire post..THANK YOU!! 🙂 I’ll include you in my will. You might want to read some other cool bios too! Click HERE to do that.
This weekend, a new movie called The Free State of Jones comes to theaters and there seems to be quite a dispute about the historical accuracy of the film. In a Smithsonian article, people from both sides of the issue make interesting cases to plead their arguments.
The movie, based around a rebellion led by poor white farmer Newton Knight (played by Matthew McConaughey), has been the subject of several books already. The story is a source of controversy in Jones County, Mississippi where it is set. Much of the controversy stems from the perceived inaccuracies that are being put forth by Hollywood in the film. This seems to be a common thread any time a movie claims to be “based on a true story.”
As a writer of historical fiction, I’ve found that it is impossible to stay completely “true to historical facts.” One reason is that while researching, I’ve often come across accounts that completely contradict each other. Of course, I attempt to decide which account is more credible, but how is one to know the real truth of something that happened during a time when there isn’t still a living soul to recount it? Another reason is that when you take a “real event” and fictionalize it, you are forced to create dialogue and internal monologues that no one could possibly ever validate. As an author, I just have to go with my gut feeling as to what my characters (who were often times actual people) would have been thinking and saying during their lives.
Most of us like a good story. A story that makes us laugh, cry, think, or experience the world in a new way. My question for you is this: If you read a novel or watch a movie based on real events, does it ruin it for you if there are too many historical inaccuracies? I’d love to hear your opinions!