The Challenges of Realism

Once I decided to place my story within the real, historic events of the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers’ strike, I knew that the research required was not only going to be arduous, but absolutely critical. Any time an author attempts to weave actual history into a work of fiction (or, rather, fiction into actual history), he or she had better be sure to “get it right” — it must ring true because (hopefully) there will be readers who will know if it doesn’t.

And for this particular story, I realized that not only must I get the historical events and players down pat, I also need to do my best to immerse myself in the not only the flavor of the time and place, but also the experiences and even psychology of the various social groups involved. Whites and blacks. Bosses and workers. Unions and businesses. Christians and Muslims. Activists and pacifists. The list goes on.

One good thing about setting my story during this very turbulent time is that it gives me plenty of material for tension. But for that tension to work it must feel authentic. I need to transcend my own limited environmental and sociological boundaries as much as humanly possible to authentically represent the various groups who were (and still are today, to a large extent) at odds — to put it mildly.

This could take a while.


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