Author Debra Pickett Reports on Truth Versus “Truthiness” with SOOP Founder, In Honor of Newest Book
At a recent literary dinner event, SOOP Founder Wade Fransson caught up with author Debra Pickett, who discussed the various ways in which she - and all writers - can successfully mine truth and fiction from their personal histories when crafting stories.
In "Reporting Lives," Pickett tells the story of Sara Simone, a television journalist who lands a big assignment in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya. But she abandons her usual talent for playing up the "tragedy beat" for television audiences when suddenly jolted by questions of its greater morality and consequences. What follows is a tale of self-discovery and reinvention that plays out a world away from Simone's Chicago home.
There are some obvious parallels between author Pickett and protagonist Simone. Both are successful journalists from Chicago whose work leads them to Africa, where they undergo transformative crises of identity. But there are also many key differences between the two.
The following snippets from the conversation between Fransson and Pickett explore the role of truth in fiction.
Wade Fransson (WF): Tell me a little about how you ultimately chose this format - a kind of fusion between fact and fiction - to relate this clearly personal story.
Debra Pickett (DP): As a journalist, writing a non-fiction book probably should have been my default, but, with limited opportunities to travel to Kenya and limited time to spend there - six trips, over about a two year period - I wasn't totally confident in my ability to report and absorb information fully enough to really do justice to the people and place. And, while I might have done a memoir about my time there, I wanted to move beyond my own personal story to something larger. I was barely 30 years old when I started working on this project and, frankly, my own life experiences are not interesting enough to sustain a whole book. Writing a novel was a way to get at the truths that were most fascinating to me with some dramatic license to make them compelling enough - I hope! - that others might actually want to think about them, too.
WF: How did you decide what facts from your own life to keep intact and which to alter in creating the character of Sara Simone?