Tanya J Peterson has written a very moving and powerful book, Leave of Absence, this book has not only captured the attention of readers, but was selected as a finalist in the NIEA’s faction category. It is a combination of fiction and fact, Tanya talks about faction and how it belongs in modern writing.
Books are categorized in two very broad groups: fiction and non-fiction. Merriam-Webster defines fiction as “something invented by the imagination or feigned,” while non-fiction is so descriptively defined as “literature or cinema that is not fictional.” The antonym of “fictional,” of course, is “factual.” Fiction and non-fiction, then, are conceptualized as two dichotomies, as either-or concepts. Fiction entertains. Non-fiction educates.
This is the traditional way of interpreting fiction and non-fiction. Today, the line has begun to blur. Fiction can most definitely educate, and non-fiction can entertain. This is not merely subjective opinion but is starting to be recognized in the writing world. Indeed, the National Indie Excellence Awards (US) has a contest category they call “faction”—fiction based on fact.
The NIEA is a reputable and recognized establishment that seeks to elevate the independent sector of the book publishing world. A statement in a press release reads, “The National Indie Excellence Awards criteria for recognition are stringent and include overall excellence. This award celebrates the highest achievements in self-publishing, a sector of the industry that has grown exponentially in recent years.” The fact that such a group recognizes fact-based fiction lends credence to the idea that novels can indeed educate and enlighten.
I was both shocked and excited when, in May 2013, my novel Leave of Absence was selected as a finalist in the NIEA’s faction category.
Of course I was thrilled to receive this honor for the obvious reasons (an acknowledgment of my writing, a feather-in-the-hat to assist in marketing, etc.). However, for me, the best part was not just the award but the category of the award. Fiction based on fact. That is precisely what I set out to accomplish with Leave of Absence.
I wrote this novel with a purpose. I’m exasperated by the negative stereotypes that exist against mental illness and the people who experience various types of mental illness. The stereotypes have led to a stigma so intense that it causes discrimination and isolation and can prevent people from seeking the help they need. I like to believe in the best in people, so I don’t think that people are intentionally cruel toward those experiencing mental illness. Instead, I think they are basing their thoughts and subsequent actions on misinformation and misunderstanding. Mainstream media continues to portray mental illness inaccurately: television, movies, books, advertisements, and the news are all guilty of this. (I know this is true in the
and from what I gather through online interactions, it is true worldwide.) US
I have a desire to be one of the many people who work to change this. My motivation stems from multiple sources. Professionally, I have a Master’s degree in counseling, am a Nationally Certified Counselor (US), I’ve worked and volunteered as a teacher and a counselor. Personally, I experience bipolar I disorder and various anxiety issues. And I have always loved to write. In high school, college, and, later, graduate school, a fun Friday night involved reading research materials and writing papers!
I felt, though, that writing non-fiction wouldn’t reach a wide enough audience. Admittedly, too, I didn’t think it would be as fun to write. I love to read character-driven novels because I connect to the people in them, and usually, my attitude or thinking is changed because of the characters.
Therefore, I set out to tell a story. I created fictional characters in a made-up situation, but their issues are very much real. When I receive feedback from readers that they became attached to Oliver, Penelope, and William and that, through them, their understanding of mental illness has changed, I am very happy. Receiving an honor for writing fact-based fiction to me means that fiction really can be a powerful vehicle in conveying human truths, and that, through fiction, readers can bond with characters and transfer that caring to the real world. I’m happy that I’m having fun using fiction to increase understanding and empathy.
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