Betsy Bird asks, “How Much is an Author Obligated to Say?” after wondering in a review of a book involving Aspergers why the writer, in her author’s note, hadn’t mentioned her personal connection to the condition. Kate Messener and quite a few others feel the answer is, “nothing” as everything we readers need to know should be in the story itself.
This then makes me wonder about my response to fictionalized books about real people and unfamiliar cultures. Generally I do want to know more. For example, I’ve just read Linda Sue Park’s forthcoming A Long Walk To Water. This fine book is a fictionalized telling of Sudanese Salva Dut‘s true story and I did very much wanted to know what was real, what made-up, how she researched it, and so forth. And so as excellent as the text was I definitely appreciated the author’s note and probably would have been frustrated if it hadn’t been there. In a couple of years I will have a book out that is both about a culture that is not my own — Sierra Leone — and a real person in history — Sarah Margru Kinson who was a child on the Amistad. Like Linda Sue Park I’ve fictionalized a true story. And so I plan on an author note because I do want readers to know what personal experiences cause me to write the book and what sort of research I did. I want them to know more.