The Lie That Tells the Truth


This morning I posted something on Facebook that I am eager to see response to.

It is “irrefutable evidence” that time traveling is happening around us, and has been for some time. Obviously, I don’t truly believe in time travel and the photos and video that are shown are either digitally manipulated or innocent items of their time that are interpreted by a modern mind using wishful thinking. Inevitably, there were be those who believe that I am serious. And depending on my mood, I might just string them along for a while. But the bottom line is, I don’t take this lie seriously.

I write science fiction. I also write Christian suspense with a leaning toward the supernatural (angels and demons, etc.). There are some on either side of the fence that have a problem with what I write. At earlier parts of my life, when I was trying to build my career–my day job–I would have worried about it and pretty much kept it hidden. But these days, as I rapidly approach 60, I really don’t care. I am the member of a conservative Christian denomination, and some of the old guard still are shocked when I talk about teaching and writing fiction. After all, fiction isn’t real. What’s the value in that?

Well, I believe there is great value in that. And for my conservative friends I like to point out that Jesus told parables that were not real. Our own church’s publishing tradition embraces children’s stories that were made up. But somewhere along the line, we have gotten into our minds that if it really happened, it’s OK, but if it didn’t, watch out.

I think it would be wiser to embrace the message that each story presents, and the method that it uses to get there. There are horrible stories that happen around us that I feel uncomfortable sharing as a writer; in fact, to me they are more horrible because I known they actually happened. And there are wonderful stories that never happened that I really wished were true. But from a reader’s perspective, does it really matter if it happened or not?

“Fiction is the lie that tells the truth,” wrote Abraham Rothburg. And until you have delved into fiction, you can’t really understand how true that is. Science fiction talks about society and how technology affects people–and could continue to in the future. It talks about what is. Fantasy talks about what could be. We have lengthy discussions about fantasy vs. science fiction in Rough Writers, or creative writing club for students here on campus. But the bottom line is, both challenge the reader to think outside the box. Bad science fiction–and fantasy–is when the writing is so filled with cliches that the reader is no longer challenged to think freshly.

And that’s where the truth comes in. Sometimes the best way to see a problem, a challenge or a possibility is to give yourself distance from it, step back and look at it from a fresh perspective. That’s the value of fiction, whether it’s scifi, fantasy, Christian suspense, or western. Really good fiction helps the reader think differently and react more openly.

We can all use a fresh perspective. That’s what challenges me as a writer. And as a reader as well.

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