This is the era of the memoir. That’s okay. Everyone has a story to tell. If you’re already famous, so much the better, especially when the real story includes sex, scandals, and heroics that the biographers and fan magazines missed.
I used to tell people I was raised by alligators near the town of Immokalee, Florida and that my dad, Papa Gator, was the inspiration for the section of road through the Everglades called Alligator Alley.
Surprisingly, few people thought this was true even though they appreciated the wisdom of Papa Gator and his attempts to gain respect from the snowbird northern tourists without having to sacrifice his eating habits. There’s no need to talk about that here because most of you would probably file those truths under Too Much Information.
In “real life” I was a college professor’s son in a middle-class brick house in a middle-class neighborhood. I delivered the morning newspaper, had a ham radio receiver and transmitter in my bedroom along with fresh water and salt water aquariums, and was an Eagle Scout. Where I “went wrong” was discovering that I could lie in such a way that people believed me, including my parents, teachers, pastors, and ladies of the evening whom we snuck into the church basement.
See, already you have here the basis for a successful lie. Looking at the previous sentence, most people will assume we snuck in hookers, while others will wonder if–inspire of the Oxford comma–we also snuck in parents, teachers, and pastors. I learned early on that successful lies needed to include enough verifiable facts to make them seem true along with certain areas of vagueness that were misleading. Case in point, when I told my parents I was going to swing by the library, they thought–as I knew they would–that I was actually going to go inside and study. I never said that but I was content with their view of my plans for the evening.
I didn’t like staying inside the house. So, during an evening when I said I was swinging by the library–which was the gospel truth of the matter–my 1954 Chevy and I were likely to be a hundred of miles away from home, usually following sandy roads through national forest lands and visiting places with multiple meanings in their names like the River Styx, Tate’s Hell Swamp, and Florida Garden of Eden.
A family friend wrote a popular book called The Other Florida about the state’s panhandle and I was determined to explore all of it. I thought I was simply getting away from it all. Little did I know I was inadvertently gathering facts and impressions about a series of conjure woman books I would one day write some fifty years in the future.
Of course, fiction and fact blur together. Such is my imagination. Is it a lie or is it fiction? When I write fiction, I always blur the lines between truth and myth, impressions and reality, and night and day. That’s who I am, and it grew out of the need I felt as a child to be secretive and to keep people from knowing who I was or where I was, and so it evolved into a writing style in the genres of magical realism, contemporary fantasy, and paranormal. Yes, I know, the who business might be an early sign of dementia.
All this comes to mind because I’m working on a short story about a man who’s put in a rest home because his kids convince a judge he’s too eccentric to be left alone in his home where he’ll probably spend all the money they want to inherit on frivolous stuff. Not that I think my family would do that. But if they did, I’m sure they’d tell the judge that I think I was raised by alligators or that I snuck a hooker into the church basement.
Writers not only have to worry that their search history on their computer might one day be snagged by the FBI in an attempt to prove they did some hideous thing when, in fact, they were doing research for a book, but they (the writers) also have to worry about being put in a home when people figure out that the stories and novels they publish sound oddly similar to the lies they told their parents when they were kids.
My imagination has always ruled my thinking. It has taken precedence over logic and so-called verifiable facts. I justify my lies by pointing out that quantum mechanics tells us that what can happen, does happen. With that in mind, it’s impossible to tell a lie. Plus, if I appeared to be telling a lie–in “real life” or a memoir–I was simply working on the rough draft for a short story, novel, or alibi.
I suspect that most of my life actually happened. But as I grow older, I’m not sure how or where it happened. Papa Gator seems so real