Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Dancing Naked in the Cemetery: When Fiction is Perceived as Fact

I have the unique joy of being able to trace my family heritage back to the early 1700s.  The tomb stones of many of those relatives are placed behind an historical country church established in 1759 less than two miles from where I live today.  Consequently, I’m not just talking about tracing on a genealogical site, I’m talking about walking up to their grave and saying out loud… “See here, right here I stand.  The fruit of your loins 200 years down the road, and counting.” 

Fortunately, I have a family that not only remained local, but also believed in education and schooled their children to write extensively.  It’s in my genes.  As icing on the cake, someone had enough insight to save their letters and pack them in a crate for me to open 150 years later.  Those letters have been great fodder for my imagination. 

Imagination is the key word here.  Predominantly, I write fiction, so I juice things up a bit.  I play around with names and take a bit of one person’s history to combine with another.  I create places of intrigue and there’s nothing more fun than ghosts and spirits and sounds in the night.  To put all of that in a grave yard, well, the combination is irresistible.

Herein lies the problem.  The embellishment of these stories by me and others over the years has become viral, and with the onslaught of tweet and twitter and all these nasty little messenger devices, the church sees more action at night than during the day.  The congregation only meets every other week for one hour.  The cemetery is busy from midnight to dawn.  Our surveillance cameras caught a bevy of not-so-tantalizing beauties dancing in the nude last weekend.  It was hard to identify them because they didn’t have any clothes on but their bare breasted frolic would have been more pleasing had more been hidden.  Just my personal opinion, of course.

Do I care?  I didn’t used to.  Get your jollies by tiptoeing around graves under a full moon or pretending that some ghost appears to reclaim his golden arm at the stroke of midnight.  What I care about is that frivolity is turning more often to vandalism and we pick up beer cans, liquor bottles and broken glass on a regular basis.  Our “no trespassing after dark” signs are ignored and the security camera and lights are destroyed.  Recently, church windows were broken.  Last night I ventured out and confronted six more young people at midnight.  Really, midnight is long past my bedtime.  I don’t like doing this, but I’m afraid we’re going to have to start prosecuting for trespassing in order to close the flood gates.  And yes, we already have a gate that stops no one.

I write this because this senseless destruction has made me rethink my own writing.  What have I written that people actually believe is true? I used to think that was the height of a good writer, to be so convincing that your reader confused fiction with reality.   I’m having second thoughts, especially now that tweeting appears to be able to broadcast tidbits of misinformation to thousands within seconds, without anyone having read the book.

I’m open for suggestions.  


  1. Fiction perceived as fact is an issue for me as well. I think we have to set aside those thoughts and just write the best story possible. I'm sorry what's happening at your church, Brenda. Don't allow the actions of some make you question what you do so well.

  2. Thanks Amy. I'm just so bewildered. I can go down there almost any night and find kids in the cemetery. As I said, if there weren't any vandalism, I wouldn't care. I just feel the need to be so much more careful about disguising the locations of anything I imagine in my stories.

  3. I have an idea. Go down there and dance naked with them. If it were me, that would scare the teenagers off for a couple of years at least.

  4. Not bad. But the mosquitoes? I have such a time with mosquitoes, and I hate being up that late. Excuses, excuses, excuses.

  5. How Frustrating Brenda! There is so much misinformation out there, that's for sure. I think your cemetery needs a ghost!

  6. I'm afraid that's what's stated all of this from the beginning. We need a security camera that sets of sirens and blows whistles when intruders arrive.

  7. Brenda,
    We are not the only ones suffering late night incursions. The stories circulating online have nothing to do with anything that you wrote or said. They are completely baseless, or at best conflations of other legends. Walking around the grave of Alice three times becomes walking around our church three times. Unfortunately, in this case we cannot control the fiction being created by these trespassers.

    If we begin to prosecute them, that information will get out via Twitter. We may consider guided tours occasionally with hot chocolate to follow. Perhaps we can raise some money for the church.

  8. Fiction perceived as fact is a chronic problem in my genre (historical fiction) where fact and fiction dance (not naked) and swirl until they are thoroughly and beautifuly mixed. People who read works of fiction and rely on them as a source of fact, however, are no reason to stop writing good fiction or to feel responsible for the misbehavior of others inspired (if indeed it is so) by that fiction. And remember for as long as there have been young people, even those youths who do not read have found reasons to dance naked (harmless) or break things (not harmless). Bad parenting and not good fiction is to blame.