Invention has long been the joy of my fiction writing and when I moved from contemporary erotica to historical, there remained delight in making it all up. Writing my erotic novel Wyatt: Doc Holliday’s Account of an Intimate Friendship took it a step further by incorporating actual people and events into a fictional account. This was a real eye opener and while it turned out to be the most exciting and rewarding experience of my writing career, it also presented situations never before encountered.
I savor the first-draft process where invention is truly at work, but I hate plotting. I’d rather make up people and indulge in their personal exchanges than think up what happens next. The best part of switching to fact-based fiction, or factual fiction as I’ve come to call it, was not having to plot a thing. History had done it for me. When I needed to know what happened next, I just looked it up in the Wyatt Earp biography I used as my blueprint. This never failed to amuse me and I was most grateful the men had produced such a fine story for me to appropriate.
On the other hand—and this is a big other—that biography had far more action than I could put into my book. Though I was able to illustrate the major events and fully portray the five-year relationship between Doc and Wyatt, I still had to condense the story, but at what price? Every time I cut or tweaked, there came a sense of guilt because I was fiddling with history. It seemed blasphemous in a way, especially with such well known men, but I pressed on. As I did the necessary shaping, however, I never lost the sense that I, the fiction writer, the inventor of stories, was an intruder.
Writing a first person account in this factual fiction further complicated things as, with Doc Holliday narrating, I had to write him into scenes where he had not actually been present. The few times I did this, it was easy to do writing-wise, but history again came scratching at me for my tinkering. Of course the pure fiction part, the emotional and sexual relationship between Doc and Wyatt, was the most fun and in that I was free to invent all I wanted. But once they were done, it was back to those facts, checking the book for what happens next.
In writing this factual fiction, I noticed something about the facts themselves: history has been set down by people who are interpreting events from their reading of actual accounts. Trouble is, there are never enough actual accounts and documents to fill all the gaps. And too often I read something in a biography where the author spoke quite definitively about an event, then at the end said it might not have happened that way at all. Thus there sometimes came the need to pick a version.
Likewise, there is a factual fiction challenge in portraying real men. Wyatt Earp comes across as stern and fearless by most accounts, but Doc Holliday is all over the place, viewed as a soft spoken, smart, witty, short tempered man by many (including me), but viewed as near sociopath by others. Bat Masterson said awful things about Doc while Wyatt and most others were generous. So what was I to do? Being it is a fictional account, I wrote the Doc I felt and in that I believe I captured the true man. Nobody really knows, of course. All we have are “facts.”