word craft


Story Behind the Story #24: Nothing But the Truth

Nothing But the Truth

Noth­ing but the Truth came to be writ­ten because of a series of seem­ing­ly unre­lat­ed experiences.

To begin: In my col­lege play­writ­ing days I became very inter­est­ed in a Depres­sion era play form called “Liv­ing News­pa­pers.” These were the­atre pieces which, for a plot, tried to teach the audi­ence about some­thing, most­ly the cur­rent events of the day. The pro­duc­tions used all kinds of teaching/theatre tech­niques, mem­os, speech­es, charts on screens, try­ing to inform the audi­ence as to what was hap­pen­ing. They were, if you will, doc­u­men­tary plays.

I even tried to write a liv­ing news­pa­per. About education.

Then jump to my inter­est in games, board games which I played with my boys. Monop­oly. And in par­tic­u­lar the mys­tery game, Clue.

I was also read­ing and writ­ing mys­tery fic­tion. No More Mag­ic and Emi­ly Upham’s Revenge had been rec­og­nized by the Mys­tery Writ­ers of America.

One day, while wan­der­ing through a flea mar­ket I came upon a unique boxed mys­tery game. In the box was all the evi­dence for a mur­der case. Detec­tive reports. Pho­tographs. Tran­scripts of inter­views. And so on. There was even an enve­lope which con­tained a cig­a­rette stub, with lip­stick on it! The idea being you went through all this evi­dence (what lawyers call “dis­cov­ery”) and then you tried to fig­ure out who the crim­i­nal was. A sealed enve­lope was includ­ed which gave the vil­lain’s name. Very cool, indeed.

A few years lat­er I came across the same game, but now, all the evi­dence was put togeth­er in book for­mat. There even was an image of the cig­a­rette stub. What it showed me is that one could put that entire “dis­cov­ery” file togeth­er so that it made a book. The nar­ra­tive was mere­ly the sequence of documents.

At the same time I was, in my capac­i­ty as an author, mak­ing lots of school vis­its. Spend a lot of time in a school that way and you pass a fair num­ber of hours in the teach­ers’ room. Amaz­ing what you hear there, espe­cial­ly since not every­one knew who I was.

Final­ly, I read a news­pa­per sto­ry about a kid who refused to sing the Star Span­gled Ban­ner in a school­room and the local uproar it caused.

Put all this togeth­er and I hope you can see how Noth­ing But the Truth evolved. Not beside the point, the work­ing title of the book was Dis­cov­ery. And the half-title of the book was: A Doc­u­men­tary Nov­el.

How­ev­er, the book was writ­ten very quick­ly, much faster than my nor­mal time. I wrote it so fast that I won­dered if it was mak­ing any sense. That’s why I sent the first half of it to my edi­tor, Richard Jack­son. I asked him if the book was work­ing and should I continue.

“Work­ing fine,” he said. “Keep going.”

I did.

But I knew it was quirky. Would any­one read it?

So when I got the call that The True Con­fes­sions of Char­lotte Doyle had won a New­bery Hon­or, my first thought (tru­ly) was, “Oh, good. Now folks will read Noth­ing But the Truth.

They did.

Still do.

6 thoughts on “Story Behind the Story #24: <em>Nothing But the Truth</em>”

  1. Noth­ing But the Truth and Char­lottes Doyle are my favorite works by you so far! (Bear in mind I haven’t read all of them). Live well and keep pro­duc­ing excel­lent works!

  2. I’m thor­ough­ly enjoy­ing this series, Avi. This one was par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing … espe­cial­ly as I have NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH on my desk right now for a re-read.

    • Dear Bruce: as I’m sure you’ve often expe­ri­enced how we writ­ers are con­tin­u­al­ly asked–“What inspired you to write.….?”
      The only thing to avoid is that the “How” becomes more inter­est­ing than the “work.”
      But maybe it would be fun to col­lect a whole vol­ume of many dif­fer­ent writ­ers’ sto­ries about their stories.….…..
      I’m pass­ing the buck here.
      And just hap­pened to have been read­ing about ancient Syracuse

      • Well, that’s an inter­est­ing con­cept Avi, but giv­en the state of my desk at the moment, any buck passed in this direc­tion is apt to get lost in the stack of paper!

        Even so …

        Dang it, now you’ve got me thinking!

  3. “Noth­ing but the Truth” is one of those books that has stayed with me for years, and influ­enced the way I look at the world. It reminds me how peo­ple can shape the truth (what­ev­er “truth” is) to fit their own par­tic­u­lar needs…and it is such a clever book as well (I love puzzles).Thank you, Avi.

    • Always a plea­sure to learn that some­thing one has writ­ten has an impact: A thought, a laugh, and as a young writer told me recent­ly, one of the plot turns in my new book made her “gasp,” with delight.


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