The Tattooist of Auschwitz: When Fact & Fiction Blur

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Recently, there’s been some controversy surrounding the bestselling novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. While there has been some issue surrounding the many historical inconsistencies in the novel, what seems to be the biggest problem revolves around the author, Australian born Heather Morris who is (according to online sources) not Jewish. On Twitter, The Tattooist of Auschwitz has been described the book as “a sexed-up romance novel/memoir,” claiming that Morris has little true information about the real Lali Sokolov. The plot is Lali’s story and is based on the only surviving account of a Jewish prisoner employed in Auschwitz as a tattooist.

Fiction and reality are always blurred, but when it comes to controversial topics such as the Holocaust, how far is too far?

Truth or Fiction?

Truth is stranger than fiction, but how true do we need a story to be? Some would argue that works of fiction, while based on real stories are simply interpretations of a true event. Theoretically, a work of historical fiction wouldn’t *have* to be true. The Tattooist of Auschwitz isn’t exactly the first work of fiction to be written about the Holocaust. The Book Thief, Maus & The Boy in the Striped Pajamas are just three popular narratives centred around the holocaust. Usually, when I’m looking for information on something, my first inclination is to read a biography or to check out some journal articles, not fiction and especially not romance novels.

So when it comes to fiction, when is it acceptable to leave out the truth?

Entertainment or History Lesson?

The truth is that we don’t go to fiction just to be entertained. Literature teaches us even when we are not actively seeking a lesson. Through the lens of fictional characters we are better able to imagine the people who lived through important and often terrifying historical events and that sets a new precedent around historical fiction. We aren’t just imagining made up characters anymore. Or fictional places. It becomes a question of representation.

It has also been suggested here that being familiar with historical events through fiction helps us make connections and draw our own conclusions about past and present events. So if a story like The Tattooist of Auschwitz is supposed to give context to the larger narrative of the Holocaust, what is there to be learned?

 The Truth About Stories

When we are writing about sensitive topics, it is crucial that we respect the truth behind the fiction. There will always be a seed of truth in any fictional account. Perhaps this should inspire readers to delve deeper if they want to learn more about a topic? Even so, I wonder  just how mad we ought to get when delving into fiction for our truths.

 

Will you read The Tattooist of Auschwitz? 

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A Syllabus for Writers

Writerly Wednesday

 

One of my favourite things about going to University was the syllabus. Every fall and Winter semester, I’d excitedly pour over the books on my course lists before running over to the campus bookstore and filling my bag with hundreds of books. Being an English major, there were always a lot of novels to read, which I loved! When I left school, it felt strange—like I’d lost something special. Recenlty, while in a writing rut, I decided to create my own writerly syllabus for inspiration. If you’ve ever been (or are currently) in a rut, consider these titles. Or, better yet, why not add on some new ones?

Honing your craft 101: Inspiration & Other Important Writerly Things

 

  1. Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg & Julia Cameron
  2. The Trickster’s Hat, by Nick Bantock
  3. The Pocket Muse, by Monica Wood
  4. The Art of Character, by David Corbett
  5. Damn Fine Story, Chuck Wendig
  6. Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder
  7. Writing Fiction, Janet Burroway
  8. The Superior Person’s Book of Words, by Peter Bowler
  9. Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott
  10. Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes
  11. The Seven Basic Plots, by Christopher Booker 
  12. Naming the World, by Bret Anthony Johnston

Bruised Ego 201: a salve for the burn of rejection

  1. Real Artists Have Day Jobs, by Sara Benincasa
  2. The Gift, by Lewis Hyde
  3. How to Get Published in Literary Magazines, by Allison K Williams
  4. Zen and the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury
  5. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert
  6. Daring Greatly, Brene Brown

How Did They Do It 301: Following in the Paths of the Greats

  1. House of Dreams, by Liz Rosenberg
  2. On Writing, Stephen King
  3. Negotiating with the Dead, Margaret Atwood
  4. Jane Austen at Home, Lucy Worsley
  5. The Bronte Myth, Lucasta Miller
  6. J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, Humphrey Carpenter
  7. Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, Ruth Franklin

Independent Study 401: Read Widely

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…This one is really up to you. Sometimes, I like to make myself a list of books from the same genre that I’m writing in, or even books that might evoke the same feeling that I am trying to convey in my own book. If that doesn’t work, read what you love and inspiration will follow.

What books do you read to help inspire your writing practice? Why not write them in the comments below?

Writerly Wednesday: The Hike

 

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We stared up at the steep, chain-linked climb that began the six-hour trek to the top, at Kjerag, Norway.

Were we really doing this? 

A sick feeling settled in my stomach. I’d read about people getting stuck or lost on the trails at the plateau, which are sparsely marked with stones, and the chains, which aren’t always still attached to the rock faces we’d be climbing up. Or… the ever-present edge of the trail, which was a long way down to the fjord. What if we got lost and couldn’t find our way back before dark? 

“We don’t have to do the hike,” said Matt.

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I shook my head. For some reason, I had to get to that boulder. The hike was long and beautiful in places. After a while, we got used to hefting ourselves up steep inclines by the chains. We rested in green valleys with sheep grazing in them and swore our way up the last crazy-steep set of rock faces until we reached the plateau, which was cold, silent, stunning.

I lined up to stand on the boulder. I got out of line. I lined up three times before I forced myself to step out on the narrow rock ledge, 3,228 feet above Lysefjorden anyway. The chain that used to help hikers leverage themselves out on the rock was broken, so I had to feel my way along the smooth ledge. Standing on the boulder with the wind whipping around me was intensely powerful, but not as much as what happened next.

 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

As I turned to leave, I wobbled. My legs were unaccustomed to so much physical exertion. I looked down. And then I panicked.

I was stuck on the boulder. 

I had envisioned myself doing yoga poses like all of the people on Pinterest and Instagram, waving flippantly at the camera as if standing so high and vulnerable was no big deal. Instead, I felt the hot shame of tears streaming down my cheeks.

“Hey! It’s okay–grab my hand!” shouted a voice.

I looked and saw that the other hikers had formed a sort-of make-shift chain with their arms. With the help of a group of strangers that I will probably never see again, I was back on solid ground. We hugged.

It’s not About the Climb

At first, I felt embarrassed, but on the way down I saw hikers helping each other all along the way. Somehow, in my frenzy to make it to the top, I had missed this camaraderie of fellow travellers.

Writing takes you places within yourself. If a good writing process means making yourself vulnerable to get to those authentic places, it is equal parts about reaching out and asking for help when you get stuck.

 

Have you ever been stuck somewhere terrifying before?

 

 

 

 

10 Reasons Why you Should Write Thank You Notes to Authors you Love

Writerly Wednesday

Recently,  I got it into my head that it would be fun to write a thank you note to a writer that I have loved. It felt like her words had changed my life in a cool way and I wanted to let her know it. Normally, I would be too shy to do anything like that. Maybe it was the full moon. Maybe, it’s because I’m trying to challenge myself to not hide in writerly solitude in my Nerd Cave all day. I don’t know.

So I wrote this letter and sent it out into the universe and that was that.

A short while later, I found a curious email with–gasp!–my beloved author’s name attached. She had actually written me back! It felt nice to know that I had reached this person in some way, even just to say thank you. I mean, hey, saying “thank you” is nice.

On a more selfish note, there are other cool perks to writing your literary heroes:

  1. Who doesn’t need a happy little pick-me-up? Even literary super-heroes can use some good writerly karma.
  2. Taking the time to sit down and think about why you liked someone else’s work that you admire gives you a chance to discover new ways that you can strengthen your own writing.
  3. Writing thank you notes is weirdly meditative, and having a meditative state of mind is great for writing real, honest work. (Aka the good stuff).
  4. Maybe said Literary Hero has some Super Awesome Advice for you? You never know until you ask.
  5. Doing nice things makes you feel better. Again, karma, man.
  6. Reaching out fights Resistance (aka the Darth Vader of writing progress). What do you do when the rejections start piling up? Reach out to other writers and suddenly you don’t feel so alone.
  7. Even though writing is a solitary task, it’s also about starting conversations. So why not join the conversation that your literary hero started? Let them know what you thought and join in.
  8. Talking about writing–in any way–even to compliment another writers’ awesome work puts you in a good frame of mind for creating your own awesome work.
  9. Reaching out to other writers makes you feel more connected. And hey, don’t stop there. Why not reach out to as many writers as you can? Find a writerly group online or in your hometown and you might just find a new writerly BFF.
  10. And hey, maybe, you and your Literary Super-Hero will become BFFs? I mean, you never know…

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Have you ever written to your Literary Super Hero? Met them in person? What was it like?

 

Writerly Wednesday: A List of Short Story Contests in July & August

Writerly Wednesday

 

Summer is almost here, but that doesn’t mean that all things writerly slow down! If anything, summer is the best time to write like crazy and send more writing out into the world. In the spirit of keeping myself honest and accomplishing my goal of not being a shy writer who hides in her writerly cave, quietly editing her works forever, I’m compiling a list of contests to enter in the summer months.

Why not follow along with me and see how many you can enter too?

  1. Glimmer Train Press – Short Story Award for New Writers. 1,000 to 12,000 words for  a short story by an unpublished writer whose work has yet to appear in a magazine with a circulation over 5,000. Deadline: June 30th.
  2. Bellevue Literary Review – Fiction Prize.  If writing about health is your schtick, then this contest is for you! There’s a $1000 prize, which is good, since the entry fee is $20.  Deadline: July 1st.
  3. New American Press – 2018 Fiction Prize. There are no limits in this contest. Enter your short story, novel, novella, collection of stories or hybrid fiction! With a $1000 prize and 25 contributor copies, that’s nothing to sneeze at. Deadline: July 1st.
  4. Nimrod – Francine Ringold Awards for New Writers. Open only to writers with no more than two previous publication credits in their genre.  5,000 words maximum. Open internationally. All finalists will be published. $12 entry fee. Deadline: July 15.
  5. Haunted Waters Press –  Fiction, Poetry, & Flash Fiction. If you’re a writer of all things spooky or supernatural, this contest is for you. Deadline: July 31st. 
  6. Crazyhorse – Short-Short Fiction Competition. Submit 3 short-shorts of up to 500 words each. $15 entry fee includes a one-year subscription to Crazyhorse. Deadline: July 31st.
  7. The Capilano Review – 8th Annual Robin Blaser Writing Contest. $1000 CAD plus publication in an upcoming issue of The Capilano Review. Each submission includes a 1-year subscription to TCR, valued at $25. Length: Maximum 6 pages per entry. Fee: $30 for Canadian entries, $40 for US/international entries. July 31st.
  8. The Orison Anthology Awards. The Orison Anthology is an annual collection of the finest spiritually engaged writing. Entry fee: $15. Deadline: August 1.
  9. Gival Press – 15th Annual Short Story Award. Stories must be unpublished and between 5,000 to 15,000 words in length. There is a $25 reading fee. Deadline: August 8th.
  10. Aftermath – The End of Our World Short Story Contest. Open worldwide, this contest focuses on climate change and environmental disaster. Submit a piece of fiction between 1500 to 5000 words. $1000 prize. Entry is FREE.

 

What are your favourite writing contests? Are there any that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

Morality Contracts, the Hot New Publishing Trend

Writerly Wednesday

Today The Guardian released a juicy bit of publishing news . With the #MeToo movement in full swing, the hot new trend in publishing are morality contracts.

What the heck is that, you may ask?

In plain terms, a morality contract reserves the right to terminate a contract with your publisher if for some reason your conduct is not in line with the “public conventions and morals” of society.  Essentially, instead of judging the book by its literary merits, morality contracts serve to judge authors by their personal lives. This has me thinking: can we separate the lives of authors from their works?

Being Good, or Good Writing?

Censorship is a dirty word. Part of the nature of good writing is the ability to write from an honest place. But reputation matters too, even if you aren’t Sherman Alexie or Junot Diaz, both of which have been recently accused of some serious sexual harrassment charges. Some would say that the “outings” of certain men in Hollywood and in the literary world is a “witch hunt,” of sorts, and that morality contracts are censorship of art.

But here’s the thing: morality contracts aren’t that new. They’ve actually been around since 1921 when Fatty Arbuckle was arrested for rape and murder. In 1940, the House of Un-American Activities Committee used morality contracts to blacklist the “Hollywood 10.”

Would you still pick up a book by an author once you knew that they’d behaved in a “predatory” way? 

I want to believe that I could separate the art from the author, but truthfully, I don’t know if I can. Finding out that your favourite author is a creep is a lot like peeking behind the fence at a theme park and catching your favourite character with his big bobble head off, revealing a sad, tired, sweaty guy smoking a cigarette.

Is good writing enough? 

 The Death of the Author

Depending on who you ask, the Author is already “dead” once it is sent out into the world. As readers, we aren’t supposed read the Author in between the lines, because the Author isn’t there. The story is the story. It’s the rough equivalent of kids whose parents are murderers. The book is its own, separate entity.

So, sure. Everyone judges a book by its cover, but can you also judge a book by its author?

The line between the author and their work is always going to be muddied. You love the book, so you love the author too.

 

When it comes to art and morals, where do you draw the line?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writerly Wednesday

 

Writerly Wednesday

 

When I first started this blog, I wrote a lot about writing. I was in the throes of editing the first novel I’d ever written and it felt important to document it. Since then, I’ve written five more novels, among other things.

For a long time, I felt like I needed to write alone, in secret after that first novel. I didn’t want to talk about my writing. I wanted to write for myself. But over the years, I’ve discovered that while writing for myself has helped me in many ways, some of the best and most surprising learning experiences have been from talking to other writers.

So I’m starting Writerly Wednesday as a (somewhat) regular feature here at Murmurs in the Margins in the hopes that other writers might find me in my little corner of the internet. Come for a chat, check out prompts and updated submissions lists.