Truth and Embroidery

As a beginning blogger, I wanted to be serious. I intended to write about the writing process, to quote famous authors, and to record my progress toward publication (or toward the satisfaction of having written). I wanted to write about Literature and Life.

Halfway through my first post, I discarded that notion. Once upon a time, I could tear apart novels and poems with the best of them, but as soon as they put that Master’s Degree in my hand, every scrap of every thought about literature leaked out of my head. And I didn’t want to work hard enough to get them back.

And my writing process is chaos, pure and simple. Chaos. Other people write books about how they write books. They say, This is the way to write a book, as if they know. But I don’t know.

So I write about life with a lower-case l. Life with a lower case l comprises cats, a mis-spent career in education, memories of my youth, my crazy family, and my general ineptitude. General ineptitude comprises such things as the time I dropped the remote control into the Jello instant pudding mix and milk that I was trying to beat into pudding.

For a while, I was reluctant to share stories of ineptitude. I envisioned applying for a job with a company whose personnel director googles me and learns more than is good for me.

But then I realized I wasn’t going to apply for anything, and if I did it wouldn’t be a job important enough to require a background check, so I said, What the heck, just tell it all.

I titled this blog Telling the Truth–Mainly because I admire Mark Twain as both a writer and a social critic, and because I thought the name appropriate.

I embroider some of the stories I tell; the embroidery relates to the Mainly.

But nearly every post begins with Truth, and most of them stick pretty close to it. The story about the remote and the pudding, for example, didn’t need any embroidery at all. I told the story exactly as it happened.

“Hell on Wheels,” the story about the librarian, which appears in the crime anthology Murder on Wheels, is not true. I didn’t find my mother pouring ground glass into lemon pie filling, and I didn’t plan to push her off a bluff. I was a librarian, but I didn’t take belly dancing lessons for years so I could fit into a bikini and spend the rest of my life on the beach in Aruba.

The completely true, entirely non-fiction story: I took three belly dancing classes because I once saw a belly dancer on the Tonight Show lie on the floor and roll a quarter over and over all the way down her torso, all that was open to public view, so the speak, and I thought it was really neat. I also liked the costumes. I had no illusions about ever replicating the act, but basic belly dancing looked like fun.

I stopped after the third lesson because I was so tired after working all day and then driving to Austin to attend class that gyrating around a room with a bunch of other middle-aged women was not doable.

I used belly dancing in the story to add verisimilitude, etc., etc., etc.

So. The librarian story was fiction, plus a few bits from lower-case l life, merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.*

The question now arises: Is fiction ever true? Yes. But it’s complicated and I don’t want to discuss it.

I planned to end with a few comments on my writing process–not how I write, or how to write, but lessons I have learned from chaos.

But that will wait till next time.


*”Merely corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative” is a phrase written by W. S. Gilbert for the character Pooh-Bah in Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.
(The funniest play ever written, with music or without.)


photographs from morguefile

6 thoughts on “Truth and Embroidery

  1. I, too, ventured into belly dancing, with the goal of a flatter tummy. However, I noticed that the really good ones did not have flat tummies. Theirs were impressive and muscular, but not flat. That’s why I quit.

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  2. Exactly. I heard it was wonderful for the waistline but that obviously doesn’t include the tummy. I would have settled for a muscular middle, though. The instructor, who wore the proper clothing, was an excellent dancer but looked horrible. She finally informed us she’d recently had her first child by C-section at the age of 47. That explained a lot. I hope she got everything back in shape.


  3. Thanks, Earl. If I let truth get in the way, I wouldn’t have any stories. It’s encouraging to know other people understand how writing and chaos go together, but I feel so sorry for them. I feel so sorry for me, too.


  4. I don’t know how I found your blog and subscribed, but I’m glad I did. I like Twain also, and now plan to read Edgerton asap.


    1. Thank you so much, Loretta. I hope you like Edgerton. I read Raney first, then Walking Across Egypt, then its sequel, Killer Diller. Lunch at the Picadilly may be my favorite. I enjoyed The Floatplane Notebooks, too, but it’s different from the others. Edgerton can make you cry and then immediately make you laugh at the same thing. If you’re interested, a video of a lecture he did at a library appears on Youtube at Thanks again for reading and commenting.


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