Truth in Fiction

I’ve written about this before. In fact, I just went back through my blog posts and discovered I’ve written about this on at least three other occasions. (I keep my blog posts for reference. I try to avoid writing about a subject twice, but that’s not always avoidable.) So if you really don’t want to hear any more on the subject, or if you don’t agree with it, or whatever, go ahead and cruise on to the next thing on your agenda.

I’m writing about this again because of a comment that was made on my ms this past week in group. I’m reading from some of my short stories until I get somewhere on my next novel/novella (whatever it turns out to be), and I’ve just started on “People Are Crazy,” the story based on the Billy Currington song by the same name.

Basically, the song is about a guy who meets an older man in a bar one night. They start shooting the shit and, a couple months later, the hero of the song sees that the older man has died. I don’t want to spoil everything, so I won’t tell how it ends, but I’ve stuck fairly close to the song in this story (I say that because a few of my other projects in this vein, while they stuck with the story, added a lot of stuff).

In the first part of the song and story, the protagonist—I named him Clay—and the old man, named Tom, are talking about the crappy economy and their conjectures about why it’s where it’s at. Clay has just been laid off from his job, and Tom is empathizing with him.

At one point, the subject of unions comes up, and Tom relates the story of a man he knows who visits a BMW plant in Georgia and how they were paying their workers so well that, when the UAW came calling, they were told to take a hike. Up to that last point, this story is one that I was told when I worked at Superior, a company that manufactures wheels.
Anyway, after Tom finishes the story, Clay is thinking to himself:

Clay grinned. Yeah, he could imagine it. Tell them Mafia guys to take their asses back to Detroit or wherever the hell they come from. Folks like that didn’t need to be down here.

No big deal, right?

Yeah, that’s what I thought.

So I get home, and I’m going through the copies I handed out, deciding which comments I need to keep and which ones I can remember off the top of my head. Understand, there are things that get commented on that no one says aloud.
Partway through, I came across a comment made on the above-quoted passage that said this: That’s offensive to Italians. Just say Teamsters or something.

I have a lot of problems with that comment, but I’ll try to keep those problems short and to the point.

First off, I’m telling the truth about the world. Sure, my stories are fiction. The characters are made up, the situation are made up, the settings are either made up or used fictitiously, if I need to. But the bottom line is, I write crime fiction, and the characters I write are real-world folks who don’t necessarily subscribe to some pie-in-the-sky idea of political correctness. We do not live in Utopia, and the people I write about wouldn’t want to live there.

That means they realize there’s such a thing as the Mafia, that the Mafia is tied in heavily with the unions (and not just the Teamsters. If you believe that, get a dose of reality), and that the Mafia is made up largely of Italians. They call it La Cosa Nostra, “this thing of ours” or “our thing” (the sources vary on interpretation).

Look it up. Even the FBI says the Mafia is Italian.

Does that mean all Italians are Mafia? No. No more than it means one Southerner calling a black by a racial slur means we’re all racist. It means that every group has some bad elements in it (I won’t say bad apples for fear of offending apples) and they most likely always will.

As writers, it’s our duty to portray our characters as honestly as possible. Many Southerners resent unions, and one of the reasons is because of Mafia involvement. You’ll hear lots of jokes about Jimmy Hoffa when the subject comes up.
Do we mind? No. We’ve got our own mafias. There’s the Dixie or Southern Mafia, as well as the Cornbread Mafia. There’s also the Mexican Mafia, or Eme (from the two m’s in Mexican Mafia). In fact, the word mafia has come to be synonymous with practically any organized crime group.

Doesn’t mean we don’t know what you mean when you say “the Mafia.” It’s not a reflection on Italians, it’s a reflection on organized crime.

But let’s assume Clay is dead wrong in his thinking. Does that make me writing him that way wrong? Not at all. Political correctness only belongs in a story of a character is PC. In that case, we as writers are still telling the truth as it concerns that character. But if a character has White Supremacy tendencies, then we should have him use the proper language and thinking. Neo-Nazi? Same thing. Any group, from the KKK to AARP, we need to portray honestly.
If not, we’re cheating our readers.

And that’s the worst offense of all.



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