Arts & Culture / Mosaic / May 25, 2011

Creating fiction from fact

Some of the last Caxton Club readings for the year took place this last Friday and Monday when authors Dori Ostermiller and Greg Bottoms visited campus. Both fiction writers, each spoke about how their real lives appeared in their works and influenced their creative processes.

Dori Ostermiller

Sharing stories of adventures in cat outfits, Associate Professor of English Barbara Tannert-Smith introduced Ostermiller, her long-time friend, with words of high praise.

“She seemed, like her fiction, to transcend all cliché,” Tannert-Smith said, describing her first meeting with Ostermiller.

Ostermiller read from her first novel, “Outside the Ordinary World,” in which her main character contemplates having an affair despite being troubled by memories of her own mother’s infidelity.

Although a work of fiction, Ostermiller’s novel drew on her own life experiences.

“I was the accomplice in my mother’s affair as a child,” Ostermiller said, describing how the book began as a series of “torturous autobiographical vignettes.”

Ostermiller turned the experience into fiction very early on in the novel, interested in overall themes of forgiveness and the effects of the past more than sticking to the details of what actually happened.

“I wanted to create a story more than stick to the fact,” Ostermiller said, describing her love of the storytelling process.

“If you have to tell the truth the way it was … maybe nonfiction’s your thing,” Ostermiller said. “But I think fiction can serve just as well.”

Ostermiller’s main goal with her novel was to ensure it “still carries on that nugget of truth.”

“We find ourselves repeating the past despite our best intentions,” Ostermiller said.

The author’s explanations of how the themes of her pieces developed were appreciated by the audience.

“Coming from a creative writing background, I thought it was very interesting to learn why she writes what she writes about,” sophomore David Wawzenek said.

Greg Bottoms

Many of Bottoms’ stories also emerged from real events.

“I think I’m much more a storywriter, even though I like true stories,” Bottoms said, explaining how he turned real events into more fiction-like pieces.

Bottoms was fascinated by the power of language, a theme visible in all of the three short works he read from. In one piece, his character, a young teenage boy, is able to convince an older and stronger bully to return a stolen bike, an ability picked up thanks to an older brother.

“He taught me that to control language was a kind of power,” Bottoms read.

It was a power Bottoms was frequently able to utilize in his own childhood and one that extends into his writing today.

“I don’t write because I read the classics or ended up with a degree in English. I write because I got punched in the face,” Bottoms said, reading from a highly autobiographical work.

Katy Sutcliffe

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