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A Life Stranger Than Fiction

Second in this year's series of author appearances in Floyd, last night's crowd for Lee Smith set new records. She seems to have been more familiar to the Floyd audience in general than she was to me, but now I've heard her speak, I understand her popularity. Born in Grundy, Virginia--the heart of coal country--she went on to Hollins College in Roanoke, where she met, became friends with, and danced in white go-go boots with her friend and classmate, Annie Dillard, in an all girl band called the Virginia Woolfs. (I so wanted to ask for more details about this factoid!)

Last night, she told the true story of her "trip down river" which forms the experiential basis for her most recent books, The Last Girls. Sixteen girls built a "floating porch" with the purpose of floating 1200 miles down the Mississippi, inspired by their Hollins study of Huck Finn. What a tale.

And how liberating to write fiction, I thought last night. In the way that painting is to photography, fiction is to fact. I envy the painter's option to embellish, to exaggerate, to delete the ugly and accentuate the beauty and the magic of a scene that my camera brings home, powerlines and litter, included. What must it be like to be on the creative throne, conceiving people, towns, histories or futures at will. Could I do it? Why have I not been drawn this direction before, and what is required at this late date, to begin?

I have to tell you, the timing was auspicious. To be inspired to find my own new river float on the same day that, at least symbolically, the non-fiction writing comes to some kind of temporary resolution and I can stick my head up and see what the coming world offers--well, let's keep chewing on the elephant on the plate before we order the next course, shall we?


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Picasso did realistic, figurative painting before moving to the abstract. So often we feel obligated to faithfully represent reality before we go forward to create our own.

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