Thank you, Gerrie, for taking time to write for us.
My mother often told me that she could not tell when I was lying. On the other hand, she could see in my brother’s big blue eyes that he was not being truthful.
So I’m a good liar, according to my mother; and mothers are never wrong. Just ask me, I’m one.
My mother also said in complimentary tones that I had a vivid imagination. An example of this happened at a wilderness church camp when I was about ten. We were encouraged to write our parents—the how-are-you, I-am-fine variety. But I, wanting to do more than the ordinary, wrote of a snake that lived under our cottage. Oh it was purple with yellow stripes and orange eyes and … unlike any snake we’d ever seen on our mid-Missouri farm. But it did rattle before it struck a girl I did not like. This was at a “Thou shalt not lie,” church camp, no less. And my mother believed there could be such a snake in the Ozark Mountains a hundred miles from where we lived. My father eventually told her otherwise.
My mother was delighted that I’d become a writer, first of newspaper stories and then as a novelist. See where I’m going with this? Of course, you do. Liars and writers have a lot in common; in both, the speaker or writer is trying to convince the listener or reader that something is true when it is not.
During my years as a yarn spinner of both the oral and written word, I’ve come to catalog what makes a tall tale persuasive.
—Believability. To be believed there has to be details that make sense. The purple and yellow-striped snake with orange eyes would be a tip-off if my mother hadn’t convinced herself that she could not look into my hazel-green lying eyes and spot the untruth. A good liar—or writer—can make the listener or reader experience the warm sand and water washing across their toes while strolling the beach in their borrowed imaginations.
—Reality. Adding emotions to a story, oral or written, creates authenticity and involvement in the tale. Nothing is as unreal as being told a love scene rather than being shown people in sexual situations. For the audiologist, that’s what jokes are for. For the scribbler, showing can be difficult for some writers. It involves emotional dialogue and conveying human magnetism (eroticism) to maintain the illusion of genuineness. Throughout the narrative the speaker or writer has to keep up the illusion of reality in the motivations of the people involved.
—Speech. In dialogue, is it easier for a liar to lie, or a writer to exercise vivid imagination? I think people have an “ear” for the spoken word—how country people talk, how Bostonians speak, how intellectuals discuss, how foreigners enunciate, etc. Mimics have a better time of lying about people in their stories if they can fall into their patois. Writers have to distinguish people by their speech, but must not overdo difficult to read dialect.
—Logic: Back to the purple and yellow striped snake with orange eyes: To get away with a lie or write a convincing story, vivid imaginations must conform to logical manifestations. People have to look and behave like people we know or have observed World-building writers must establish rules that are logical for aliens. When writing vampires, they must behave like vampires we’ve come to know—or ghosts, or talking animals. Even cartoon characters have to be logical.
—Variables: This is one that combines them all, or you can throw them all to the wind because maybe somewhere in the world there really are purple snakes with yellow stripes and orange eyes.
Retired journalist for The Atlanta-Journal Constitution, in 2009, Gerrie Ferris Finger won The Malice Domestic/St. Martin's Minotaur Best First Traditional Novel Competition for THE END GAME, released by St. Martin's Minotaur in 2010. She grew up in Missouri, then headed further south to join the staff of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There, she researched and edited the columns of humorist Lewis Grizzard and co-wrote a news column with another reporter for three years. The series that started there is still going strong today. Running with Wild Blood releases this month.