Sunday, September 15, 2013

"Never Show it , if you can Tell It"

I'm a story-teller, not a story-shower.

If I was in the Showing Business, I'd be making a movies, not writing a book.

Not that I haven't thought seriously of the potential of Henry Dawson's penicillin story as a 21st century version of an oratorio.

 But I realize most successful musical-dramatic works - due to their need for textual brevity - must rely upon the audience's existing knowledge to fill in the gaps in the storyline and mood.

So this book first, then someone else can develop its musical and dramatic potential.

I do eventual see a successful musical story, set entirely in the Dawson team's tiny, tight little world of lab - clinician's consulting office- hospital ward at Columbia Presbyterian, and  running between September 1940 and September 1944.

But as for my book itself, I actually feel more comfortable telling it, using as few (real) direct quotes as possible.

It is popular history slash biography ,not popular journalism , after all.

For some reason,  biography slash popular history gets very little attention in any standard account of narrative non-fiction and creative non-fiction.

That account tends to regard lots of direct quotes from interviews and elaborate scene-recreating, complete with pages of dialogue, as the very exemplars of the art.

I instead want a narrative voice located somewhere between today's Economist magazine and the early Time Magazine : a voice that must smoothly synthesize lots of material ,hidden just below the surface in years of research, and present it to the reader in nice small digestible chunks.

Academic history, in contrast to popular history, tends to cast a much smaller net in each book , and replaces creative non-fiction mantra of lots of direct quotes with a need for lots of citations .

But popular history must self-consciously come to a lot of tiny final decisions, one way or the other, based on quite serious research, but done in areas academic historians would prefer to leave as (amply discussed) open questions.

So is the only Charles Aronson in the 1940 American Census   Henry Dawson's first penicillin patient ?

I believe so, based on a large number of closely reasoned probabilities. But I haven't proven him to be so - and an academic account would discuss all my possibilities and then leave it open to further debate and change.

Done repeatedly, this appraisal of the scant evidence history tends to leave behind, so slows the pace that 99 % of even determined readers bail out , let alone when we consider the high fail-out count among merely averagely motivated casual readers.

Perhaps upon publication, my book will provoke a lot of people to offer up contrary evidence on the exact indenity of Charlie and on many other points.

Fair enough, thankfully an ebook can be quickly altered to correct and expand its various points.

But my book has been researched as far along as I can afford to do it - short of months spent in London, then months in New York and then months in Washington DC and then again in Adelaide.

So : it is what it is......

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