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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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