Journalist Slights Novelists

Likely Stories was less story-filled than usual last week because I was home with a sick kid–interestingly, he felt well enough to demand that I build train tracks for him most of the time he was awake. Fortunately, a lot of people seemed to enjoy the Booze and Books post. Keep the comments coming!

In a sad story in Saturday’s Chicago Tribune (“Taser death spotlights town’s corrupt history“), Howard Witt used a variation on a stock line that always drives me crazy:

No novelist could have invented Winnfield, a place so steeped in corruption that they built a local museum to try to sanitize it all. 

I’m sympathetic to journalists on deadline who sometimes slip in the turning of a phrase. But couldn’t his editor have caught him? (I hope it wasn’t editor-introduced.) Perhaps some novelists couldn’t have invented a corrupt Southern town, but many have. Perhaps they were inspired by actual corrupt towns, but certainly the idea isn’t beyond the reach of writers’ imaginations. If a corrupt Southern town is too far-fetched for fabrication, how do you explain the work of Tolkien, Vonnegut–hell, take your pick. How do you explain Neil Stephenson’s Anathem?

Novelists can invent just about anything. But perhaps it’s understandable if journalists, who are not allowed to invent anything, find that hard to believe.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is the editor of Booklist Online and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix.

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