This summer and early fall, I’m re-posting the 10 Most-Read Stories Behind the Stories from this blog. I’ve rewritten each essay somewhat and included the most-often-asked question about the book.
As we continue our countdown, Nothing But the Truth is #2 on the most-read list, my 24th book and a Newbery Honor winner in 1992. Although it was written 26 years ago, many people tell me that it is especially relevant today.
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. Not very good.
Now jump to my interest in games, board games, which I played with my boys. Monopoly® comes to mind. And in particular the mystery game, Clue®.
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 that cigarette stub. This showed me 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 many 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 original title of the book was Discovery. And the half title of the book was: A Documentary Novel.
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.”
That said, 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.
Most often asked question:
When the book was first published time, and time again, different teachers would take me aside and ask: “Did you write Nothing but the Truth because someone told you what had happened in my school?