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April 8, 2006

On the Da Vinci Code Lawsuit and A Writer's Truth

I am happy to hear that Dan Brown and his publisher were acquitted of any copyright infringement charges, brought against them for the publication of The Da Vinci Code. The way people are beginning to hound publishers worries me. Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad idea to keep an eye on the integrity of a piece, especially if it rips off someone else's work. I was supportive of the drive to make Frey own up to his lies, because in the context, I feel they really mattered.

It's a tricky thing. I really embrace the quote from the Wachowski Brothers' new film, V for Vendetta about the relationship between Truth and Art. "Artists use lies to tell the truth; politicians use them to obscure it." Of course, I may be biased, but I have to agree. As any generalization goes, it promises to be false some of the time, but true most of the time.

Artists use lies to tell the truth; politicians use them to obscure it."

V for Vendetta 2006

Frey had a problem because he was telling a tale of redemption, and selling it as Non-fiction. That is a very specific incident, and I found it galling, to say the least, that a man would do such a thing as dress up, doctor, and invent (or omit) crucial scenes in such a story. Because when a tale is told as "Non-Fiction," and it is a tale of struggle and soil and subsequent redemption? Certain things have to be true, or you destroy the entire spine. Frey claimed artistic license. But there is a difference betweem changing the song that was playing on a radio to changing the fact that you heard it in the mall, and not the Sheriff's office.

Frey did writers and readers and publishers a great disservice by crumbling to the imperative of greed that caused his publishers/handlers to advise repackaging his fiction work as a "Non-Fiction" book. Because none of us really want memoirs held to such a candle as a matter of course. The purpose of a memoir is not a sterile presentation of data; that is for other types of books. A Memoir is to show the writer's viewpoint. And as such, dry and empirical fact are simply inappropriate. Perhaps the distinction I make is not one you can follow. If so, I would simply point toward the framing of the text. For myself, I would rely heavily upon the Caveat, as I did in my memoirish type pages of notes here. That was one of the major Sins O' Frey. That unabashed, unqualified "Non-Fiction" label. Mine reads "I have discovered that I tend to have rich and poetic memories that probably have more to do with my own inner dialogue than with any common plane of Reality. Ultimately, the tale is true, for if I tell it with fear or flourish, you can trust that that is how I experienced it, as well," and a reader is then properly oriented to my frame. Come the day I write edit together my memoir (I have already written over 2,000 pages of memoir type diary writing), I will also preface it with a very similar inscription. But you know what? I still tell the truth to the best of my ability, and certainly in any area that would affect the overreaching message or truth of the entire arc.

There is more to be said about The Da Vinci Code, to my mind. But my thoughts there veer more into talk of religion and social ills/patterns. And here, I keep my topic to writing, books, the written word, literature, cinema and (of course) All Things Horris.

SO, I'll close by saying that I feel a writer of fiction must be allowed to draw upon historical texts, for they are what tell us of the past of our race and kind. Is that not correct? If one is to use the truth of our history to inform a story (and don't all stories do this?), then he or she must not be prosecuted for such.

Copyright doesn't protect ideas and copyright doesn't protect facts. That's why we have genres, fiction and nonfiction, and a number of people can write novels based on the same idea and still have freedom of expression."

The Bryan College Station Eagle, "'Da Vinci Code' author wins court battle," 6:29 AM, Saturday, April 8, 2006

My concern also comes into play specifically because some of what I do in the SCARY series of books is use actual history to build a framework for a fictional narrator and character (Horris). Now, clearly, in book one,SCARY: A Book of Horrible Things for Kids , there are bits of myth and urban legend. It's a snack-pack of scary, creepy, frightening "Things" (as the title notes), and the goal was just to offer a fun and dark book.

But from Horris' SCARY History of Egypt on, I am doing much more involved research, and the books will be (unless noted otherwise) totally rooted in historical fact. This is because I really had no idea, when I made the first one, that a series would be next. That's how publishing goes. But when it was made clear to me that a series was wanted, I had to think over the entire arc of this potential series. I had to consider longevity, and what the books would actually consist of. I couldn't go on and on having Horris show only unrelated "scary things" for a whole series.

The publisher and those involved found the latter chapters, and my take on world history (ahem, Horris' take on history, excuse me) interesting. So I thought I would make history a large chunk of what the books do. And in that light, I knew I had to make them not only fun and spooky, but rather reliable, and well-researched.

Unlike this post, which is entirely make-believe. I'm hungry. Time for breakfast, thanks.

joaquín ramón herrera writes for children, adults, and other humans found elsewhere in the continuum of development. He is also an illustrator, musician, and surprise protagonist. If you have found his glasses, wallet, or keys, please contact him here.

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