Topic of the Week: August 16-20, 2010

Jon Clinch (photo by Michael O'Neill)

Open a newspaper and you’ll find stories too strange to be true and yet they are. What happens when an author takes one of these stories and spins it into fiction? Does the writerly adage “write what you know” become a means of capturing the mass, but losing the essence of a story? We’ve seen the tendency for authors to lay aside credibility, “because it really happened this way.” What does it take to use a real story as a springboard for fiction? This week in #litchat we’ll discuss novels drawn from real life incidents that are stranger than fiction.

Joining us as guest host on Friday, August 20, is Jon Clinch. Author of the critically acclaimed novel Finn, Clinch’s latest novel, Kings of the Earth, is inspired by the stranger-than-fiction-story of the Ward brothers of Madison County, New York. While Clinch admits to drawing from the sensational elements surrounding these agrarian atavists, he veers away from its reality to create a compelling story of his own imagining. Written in a chorus of voices as distinct as the ink on the page, Clinch creates empathy where another author might derision and tenderness where another author might tend toward thrillerdom.

In this review for the Washington Post, authorRobert Goolrick (The Reluctant Wife) said, “As he did in his wildly acclaimed first novel, Finn , a reinvention of Huck’s story from the point of view of his bigoted, drunken father, Clinch here takes on a familiar story — in this case, a real one. But he turns it inside out and gives it new life and meaning.” Goolrick later writes, “In using the real-life story of these brothers, Clinch is not appropriating; he is using the skeletal structure of the known to build the body of the complex and yearning American character.”

Born and raised in upstate New York, Clinch has been an English teacher, a metalworker, a folksinger, an illustrator, a typeface designer, a housepainter, a copywriter, and an advertising executive. After graduating from Syracuse University, he taught American Literature and Advanced Composition to high school students. Three years and a Pennsylvania Teacher of the Year Award later, he set aside teaching and took up advertising. His career took him from one agency to the next until he found himself creative director of a high-profile Philadelphia shop, at which point he abandoned big agencies and founded a small one instead with his wife, the novelist Wendy Clinch (who appeared in #litchat on March 26, 2010).

Follow Jon Clinch on Twitter at @jonclinch.

Chatscripts from Monday and Wednesday open chat on topic: Stranger Than Fiction.

Chatscripts from Friday’s guest host visit from Jon Clinch.