roman a clef

The Perfect Storm…Creative Non-Fiction as a Genre

In l991 three unusual weather conditions came together and formed what’s been dubbed as “The Perfect Storm.” I found it interesting because there was a book and a film about it that became widely popular in the mainstream…and controversial to a certain degree.

It’s also been referred to as the Halloween Storm, or Halloween Nor’easter. And now it seems as if history is repeating itself all over again with Sandy.

Here’s an interesting article written recently about that’s focused on the reality angle of “The Perfect Storm,” with a few interesting comments about the book and movie.

On Oct. 30, 1991, Leonard and two crew members were several days into their voyage when they were caught in the confluence of three weather systems. They were about 60 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts.

One of the crew issued a mayday, and the three were plucked from the Atlantic Ocean by a Coast Guard helicopter.

The book and the movie, neither of which Leonard participated with, portrayed him as drunk and detached. Leonard has always insisted that the boat, which later washed ashore intact, was never in any real danger.

As you can see, Ray Leonard, who was actually the skipper of the boat that was allegedly portrayed in the book and film didn’t even participate in any of it. And, according to him what really happened was nothing like the book or film, which isn’t a surprise. He claims they were, indeed, equipped to ride out the storm, and were in better shape than the US coast guard.

This is even more interesting:

An exception is the portrayal of the yacht whose crew was taken off-board by the US Coast Guard. Its story is clearly based on the events surrounding the Satori, which are also dealt with in Junger’s book; Junger’s version of the event, however, is contested by the owner and skipper of the yacht, who was not interviewed for Junger’s book, but is supported by the two crewmembers on the Satori and the Coast Guard rescuers. The film highly fictionalizes the story of the Satori; it renames the boat Mistral, and leaves its crew anonymous, making no explicit claim about the “true” identity of the boat.

I think the key phrase here is “highly fictionalizes.” This evidently led to controversy and wound up in court.

While there have been disputes over the context and research of the book, there have been controversies that surround The Perfect Storm. Families of two crew members sued the film makers for the fictionalization of events which happened prior to the loss of the Andrea Gail.[4] In 2005, the Florida Supreme Court ruled against the family of Captain Tyne by a 6-2 vote.
 
Aside from my personal feelings (I didn’t like the book or movie much), what I find interesting is that the book is considered “Creative Non-Fiction.”
 
Creative nonfiction (also known as literary or narrative nonfiction) is a genre of writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives. Creative nonfiction contrasts with other nonfiction, such as technical writing or journalism, which is also rooted in accurate fact, but is not primarily written in service to its craft. As a genre, creative nonfiction is still relatively young, and is only beginning to be scrutinized with the same critical analysis given to fiction and poetry. It is sometimes referred to as docufiction.[1]
 
It’s almost like Roman a clef, which is like biography but mixed with fiction…embellishment, satire, and even parody…which I’ve done a few times. Let’s face it, one key ingredient to most books is the “what if” factor. Without that, if books were based on real life, they wouldn’t be very interesting because real life isn’t that interesting to begin with. In fact, romance as a genre is based almost entirely on the escapism and rarely related to reality. That’s one reason why we read them.  
I think these things are important to know for a variety or reasons, especially with all the loud voices on the Internet speaking and commenting about things about which they don’t really have a clue. I understand why the author of “The Perfect Storm” did what was necessary to make the book more interesting. I also understand why the real people involved were not thrilled about that. But I don’t always think one thing is entirely connected to the other. There’s nothing that says the people who were actually involved in the storm can’t write a book of their own and replay their personal experiences. Whether or not anyone will buy it and read it is another story. Publishing is a business, not an outlet for one or two people to enjoy themselves. And while the real story might make a great PBS special, I doubt it would have been a huge bestseller.
One of the most widely discussed topics today seems to be the fact that so many think they have a great memoir. But all they really have is a story that is important to them, and not to anyone else. I may have posted this before on this blog, but I can’t remember so I’m posting it again. There’s an old saying in the antique business: “Nobody wants what grandma had except grandpa.” And I tend to think that’s true with books and stories as well.

Roman a Clef…

I was going through a few blogs today and saw that a blogger I follow was posting about a novella that’s based on real life. This is what’s called Roman a Clef.

Wiki says this about Roman a Clef:

Roman à clef or roman à clé (French pronunciation: [ʁɔmɑ̃n‿a kle]), French for “novel with a key”, is a phrase used to describe a novel about real life, overlaid with a façade of fiction.[1] The fictitious names in the novel represent real people, and the “key” is the relationship between the nonfiction and the fiction.[2] This “key” may be produced separately by the author, or inferred through the use of epigraphs or other literary devices.[3]

And you can read more about it here…

But what I’d like to know is why we don’t see more around these days. I see a lot of memoir and non-fiction. But I rarely see Roman a Clef, and it’s something I love. I rarely even see the term used. I often wonder if a lot of the fiction I read is really Roman a Clef and the author didn’t bother to mention it up front. But that would be speculation and I try not to do that.

I also read a lot of celebrity bios that are considered non-fiction, and I have a feeling a lot of the content is actually fiction. But that would be speculation, too. I’m finishing up the Steve Jobs bio and I’ll post about it soon.

The reason I’ve never done a Roman a Clef is because I’ve always focused hard on fiction, especially with respect to character development. That’s not to say that I don’t draw from my own personal experiences as a gay man. But I rarely ever draw from one particular experience or person I’ve known. My characters and stories are more like puzzles, in the sense where I take small pieces of everything I’ve experienced, put them together, and create something/someone that’s never existed before. But I would like to try my hand at Roman a Clef…as long as I don’t get sued.