Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday's Guest Blogger: Lyn Hamilton

Lyn Hamilton is the author of eleven novels of “archeological mysteries”, featuring antique dealer (and sleuth) Lara McClintoch. The are clever, engrossing and, well, if you haven’t read any of them, you should! A link to her website is provided at the bottom. Thanks, Lyn!

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I have been musing lately on the ability of fiction to illuminate social issues, to get to the heart of human experience through the telling of stories that are not, well, real. I am not sure why I’ve been thinking about this, other than that it has already been a long, hard winter here in Toronto even if it’s only January, and the gloom perhaps lends itself to thoughts of some of the ills of our society and how they are best documented and explored.

It is also because of my interest in the case of Herman Rosenblat. Rosenblat wrote a Holocaust memoir called Angel at the Fence, and it was to be published by Penguin’s Berkley Publishing, which just happens to be the publisher of my archaeological mystery series. Rosenblat wrote that he met his wife Roma at a sub-camp of Buchenwald where she is supposed to have sneaked him food. Trouble is, that isn’t true: apparently, they met on a blind date in New York. With that revelation, and Berkley’s decision not to publish the memoir, Rosenblat joins the likes of James Frey who also made up a memoir. Unlike Rosenblat, Frey’s book got published before the subterfuge was revealed, and he is perhaps best known for annoying Oprah no end.

Rosenblat’s excuse, I suppose you could call it, for making this all up, was that he wanted to better spread his message. (Comments on the other side of this argument are to the effect that a heart-warming false memoir like this just demonstrates our culture’s unwillingness to confront terrible events like the Holocaust.)

So why pretend it’s true? If the story is as compelling as those who read it, unaware of the subterfuge, have said, would this same book labelled a novel not have spread the message just as well? Do we ignore the messages of fiction, because they’re not populated by real people? True, biographies and memoirs sell better than fiction, by and large. Is that the reason for doing this? They sell better?

I am a judge in the Arthur Ellis awards for the best crime writing in Canada this year. That means I am working my way through a lot of crime fiction these days. In the last few weeks alone, I’ve learned a great deal about human trafficking, about abuse of children, about war, about the human toll of great natural disasters – all through the medium of mystery fiction. Does that make what I have learned any less relevant? I don’t think so. I’ve always been proud to be a part of the mystery community, because I believe that popular fiction can illuminate social evils – in fact has led in the exposure of ills in some cases – through the compelling telling of stories that may not be absolutely real, but which represent the world in which we live vividly and accurately. In fact, one of the reasons I began my archaeological series was to talk about issues of patrimony and heritage, and the loss of same by people all over the world, by the action of greedy smugglers and art dealers, to say nothing of museum curators. I wanted to do that in a way that people would find engaging, but at the end of the day, if someone thought twice about buying a pre-Columbian object on their trip to Peru and sneaking past customs in Canada, I’d be pretty happy. Of course, I wanted readers to stay up way too late to find out who dunnit, but I had other reasons for writing as well, and fiction, based on my knowledge of some of the less than acceptable goings-on in the heritage community, seemed as good a way as any of getting at those issues. By and large, mystery writers work hard to make sure that their fictional depictions mirror real life issues. Readers of mystery fiction want to be entertained, but they also want to be informed, and mystery fiction is a valid way of doing that.

Regards, Lyn Hamilton

PS – There’s a free mystery up on my website (www.lynhamilton.com) for a limited time. It’s in manuscript form, but you’re welcome to download it. I only ask that if you do so, you consider making a donation, however small, to a women’s shelter in your community. Speaking of social issues!!

4 comments:

bubbie.zadie said...

Lyn

good post. I am the person who took down the herman hoax book. really. see how i did it and the hurdles i faced all alomg from media

danny bloom in taiwan

http://globalwishingwell.blogspot.com

Lyn Hamilton said...

Thanks to Danny Bloom for posting the article on Rosenblat and for letting us know abour his involvement in the case. He is to be congratulated on his detective work and his persistence! The article is fascinating.

bubbie.zadie said...

aw, shucks, it was nothing. just had some extra time on my hands.....but it does make an interesting detective yarn yes, and there's more even. ask me...

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