Is That a Real Book?/The Fiction Tightrope

        I have a reader who goes by the title slightlyignorant.  Don’t you love self depreciation?  In truth, she is a college student who is not one bit ignorant, but writes a blog that is perceptive beyond her tender years.

        One day she wrote and asked the question.  How much of this book we’re gonna read is real?  And that folks, is the 64 thousand  (with inflation the half million) dollar question.

        In that one question, msslightly honed right in on the doctor dilemma as a fiction writer- confidentiality.

        You see, a Doc walks a tight rope.  It is a high wire act like those cats who walks out across a line strung between two skyscrapers with one of those long poles as a balance beam.  Lean too far either way, and you die. 

        That is why all my characters have to be fictional.  They had to be to protect the privacy of each one of my patients.  Heck, I even tended to the rights of the bad guy even though the case was a long time ago and he is now deceased. 

        At the same time, all the events are based on a true story.  The trick is let you guys deep inside the Doctor world but not violate anyone’s rights.  If it wasn’t true what good would it be to you?  If you are gonna take your time to read it, I want you understand my world in a way you would have never been able to otherwise.  (Just like I read chili when I want to figure out what it is like to be a teacher.)   At the same time, I have to write in a way that does not go against my my oath.  My patients have to have my loyalty, and their privacy.

        A very close friend and golf buddy told me he could see my mind bounce along the fiction writer tightrope as he read along.  Even though he is very close to the situation, he could not tell for sure when I leaned toward the fact or the fiction side of the balance beam, so I guess I am doing my job.  Even though the novel is fiction, I have to be committed to show the truth, otherwise there ain’t no reason you should read a word I write.

        I am reminded of John Hartford.  A fan asked him about a song at one of his shows.

        “Mr. Hartford,” they asked.  “Is that a real song or did you make that up?”

        John said he didn’t quite know how to answer that.  I’m not sure either.  So to ms. slightly who asked the question of the year to this fiction writer, I pay tribute to you today.  I guess I can say it is a real book, and even though I made up parts of it, it is true. 

        In med school, they used to tell us half of what they were gonna teach us was wrong, but they didn’t know which half.  As a writer, I’ll say half of what I tell you may turn out not to be right some day, but I didn’t do it on purpose.  Even though I’m old, I’m still searching for the truth, and I appreciate each of you on the journey with me.

Dr. B

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20 Comments on “Is That a Real Book?/The Fiction Tightrope”

  1. newt221 Says:

    Dr. B.
    In one of my creative writing classes, the prof said that every good story has a bit of truth in it. In fact most fiction stories begin with a nugget of fact. Then that nugget is taken and embelished until you are not sure what is truth or what is fiction.

    In some stories, you can pick out the bit of truth. That does not make the story any less interesting to me. In fact, I am interested to “see” what can be done with the nugget.

    I guess it is like taking a piece of clay (the fact) and making it into all types of different things. It’s interesting to see what a person can do with that piece of clay and how different each person makes it.

    Kudos to you for taking that lump of clay and making it into something for everyone to look at and wonder what it was to begin with.

  2. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Cindy,

    Nothing would thrill me more than to have someone read my book, understand some things, and avoid medical (or other) trouble because of what they learned. After a while your readers become like your patients and friends.

    Dr. B


  3. Dear Dr. B,
    First of all, you honor me more than words by answering my question in this manner. My heart is going a million miles a minute at the kind words you wrote about me and my blog. I am not yet a college student, though I hopefully will be one by next fall!
    Now, to your wonderful answer to my question – I now understand better what your book is about, and I thank you for your answer. The reason I was confused, you see, is because there are some writers in your professions who write absolutely fictional books – one such is the former therapist, now writer, Jonathan Kellerman. He writes psychological thrillers, the main character always being Alex Delaware, and the stories are definitely fictional, and not based on anything true besides try psychological diseases.
    Your book, however, is to my understanding one that is based on true clients, true stories, but is, plot-wise, a fiction novel. I am definitely looking forward to it, most especially if I can read it and think to myself that it isn’t pure imagination, that it is based on people and experiences that Dr. Tom Bibey actually met and had. I think there is something fascinating in this sort of novel, and I truly wish the best of luck with it and cannot wait until I’ll be able to pluck it off a shelf in Barnes and Noble, go to the register and pay for it, and then go home and sink into a comfy chair with some coffee and a blanket on my knees and lose myself in it.

  4. drtombibey Says:

    Ms slightly,

    Young lady, you got it just right. That is it exactly!

    I am amazed at young people. When I was ms slightly’s age a blue tooth was something in need of a dentist. Now the young folks are all like my kids- sophisticated beyond their years.

    Dr. B


  5. Dear Dr. B,
    Sophistication of any kind does not come from nowhere. The only, and I mean ONLY, reason that I might be more mature than some people my age, is because of how my parents raised me.
    This makes me think that you must raise your children the way I was raised – with honesty, plenty of books around the house and with love and respect for your children as people, not merely children.

  6. drtombibey Says:

    ms slightly,

    That is how I tried to raise mine, and they also have a worldly view at a young age.

    I think you have read a lot too. When I was in high school I was only interested in girls, guitars, golf, and pizzas. I did like to read, though, and it might have saved me. Books were the only thing I was very good at.

    Dr. B

  7. Karen Says:

    Dr. B

    What a great explanation!! I have story or two brewing that will need the same level of discretion and maturity – and I need to learn to be a tightrope walker first. I tend to be an all or nothing kind of person…this blurs the lines – but for good reason. And I might need to grow up a bit more myself before I tackle them. When I feel ready – or the story refuses to go away, which I highly suspect will be the case since it’s been bugging me for year – I might just be knocking on your blog door asking for tips.

  8. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Karen,

    I might be wrong, but I have a feeling you are like me on this- when I see wrong I feel like I need to make a statement. At the same time, I have to do it a way that does not seek people’s destruction. You are right- it can be a tightrope. I’ll give you the best advice I can for the amateur I am.

    I sat on my story many years, then started to cook it four or five years ago when I began to tend to it every day. I’d let it simmer, but always came back to check on it.

    The last couple of months I got to where it was consuming me, so I let a few Harvey County folks take a look at it.

    My agent says he thinks it will do well in the South, but neither of us are sure how folks in other locales will see my little corner of the world. After my people look at it, we may send it out a little further.

    Dr. B

  9. Karen Says:

    You’re spot on Dr B. I have a story to tell that could do more harm than good. It really is like a weapon in my hands….a big responsibility 🙂

  10. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Karen,

    It is a big responsibility. If you don’t drop the hammer all the way, sometimes you can put folks in a position where they have no choice but to do right.

    Dr. B

  11. Mrs. Chili Says:

    The tightrope you walk is the first cousin to the one that teacher-bloggers walk, Doc. I know it well.

  12. drtombibey Says:

    mrschili,

    You have understood this doctor writer’s brain right from the get -go. It is exactly the same. Maybe it is because we are both in the business of helping other human beings.

    Dr. B

  13. Billy Says:

    When I pulled in to read tonight I was blown away by the ideas that were flying around. WOW. A couple of things I would like to clear up. 1] Once when I was in Florida I picked up a guy who happened to be a reporter for the National Enquirer on his way back to Lantana. We got to talking about all the outragious stories in the paper. He smiled and told me that everything printed was a “true story”.

    Which brings up another point that my wife explained to me: All novels are fiction by definition. However, all good novels reveal truth to the reader. in the stories woven by the author. If you ever have been to a southern barber or beauty shop or a Sunday meal with all the kids, you know the difference between a yarn that shows truth and facts that tell nothing.

    Dr Bibey, I cannot wait to your real book on the shelf. And I am glad it is not a “true story” but a story that shows truth.

  14. drtombibey Says:

    Billy,

    Yes it is not a journalistic account of events from a few decades ago, but yet it does show the truth.

    I think if we don’t try to show the truth there is no reason to write, or read, fiction.

    Dr. B

  15. Ted Lehmann Says:

    I think I may be missing something here. The conflict is not between “truth” and fiction. It’s between facts and fiction. Parents who tell their children to “tell the truth” are also missing the point. Fiction is at its very best when it uses fictional incident to explore and elucidate the truth of a situation. This was always a difficult step for my high school and college students to take. They wanted to know what was factual, or, in the case of many writers, what was autobiographical. To ask you, Dr. B, whether you’ve included facts about your patients or the situations you put your characters in is to ask you to betray your professional responsibility. To ask you to tell the truth is to ask you to be a good writer. An important concept here is the idea of the reliable narrator. Holden Caulfield, in Catcher in the Rye is a notorious unreliable narrator in that he lies to himself and his readers. My problem with this almost classic novel is that I don’t trust Holden. You I trust. I know from reading what you write that you tell the truth. Whether you have a single fact in there or not doesn’t matter in the least. – Ted

  16. drtombibey Says:

    Ted,

    You have captured the conflict.

    After they have read the book, it is imperative my patients still trust me as their doctor, and it is also true my readers must trust me as a writer. To keep my integrity, I must be loyal to both. That is the doctor fiction writer tightrope.

    In my life I have been around many people and situations. Each had an impact on my stream of consciousness. Just like in real life, the characters came to be who they are via the influence of a number of different human beings.

    A small group of Harvey County confidants have promised to look over the MS for me. They are close enough to me to tell if I did not do right. I tried very hard, but I am human. I trust them to tell if if I slipped in places. They are all good people and would know my flaws were inadvertant and would forgive me. At the same time they are honest and I trust them to point out anything they find that needs attention. That way I can correct the flaws before it reaches the general public.

    All of them have been sworn to secrecy.

    Dr. B

  17. pandemonic Says:

    Interesting. I’m going to have the same dilemma with my book. Of course it’s fiction, but it’s based on some facts and real feelings. Of course I have to say that, because my friends and relatives (my husband and son for sure) are going to read it and say “hey! that’s me!” Really. The son looks a lot like my son and has the same interests. There’s a husband too, but he’s not my husband. He’s a two-timing horse’s rear end. It takes place where I live and moves to the West Coast, where I’m familiar. I had to speak with real people about real situations to make the story believable.

    Although you’re a doctor, and have the added burden of protecting your patients’ confidentiality, it’s going to be no less a cross for me to bear as well. (And can you imagine? All of your friends saying, which one is me? Hey, I’m not like that!)

  18. Dr Bob Says:

    Happy New Year to you Dr B.
    I’m looking forward to your book too, and, (in response to your message on my blog), to your book tour!
    I’ll set my contacts off figuring out where would be good stops for you so you can jam with Scottish Traditional musicians.
    I haven’t sat myself down to write much fiction so far but, when I’m teaching, I do use little stories I made up based on my real GP experience.
    Tricky making sure nothing’s recognisable though!

    Dr Bob

  19. drtombibey Says:

    Ms. Pande,

    I take solace in this story.

    I read about a guy who did a fictional expose of the record busines.

    A lot of folks called him to say they loved the way he dissed the bad guys. What they didn’t realize was they were the very ones he had in mind as he wrote!

    Dr. B

  20. drtombibey Says:

    Dr. Bob,

    So good to hear from you.

    Bluegrass has big roots in Scotch Irish for sure.

    Someday I am going to get there. Because I still work full time also, I am limited to one big tour a year, but I have the following (and in rough order) on my radar:

    1. The Carolinas and Virginia/West Virginia
    2. Deep South, esp Mississippi, also Florida
    3. New England and frozen tundra states
    4. Mid west with Oklahoma, Kansas and Utah high on the list, and on to California.
    5. Texas
    6. Australia.
    7. Scotland/England/Ireland/Wales

    I am gonna take my wife, my mandolin, and my book everywhere I go. I look forward to meeting you some day. I have found you a kindred spirit from the get go.

    Dr. B


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