I want to start off with a question that I wish I had asked — “Is there anything that you wanted to include in Blood in the Water that you weren’t able to, for whatever reason? Why?”
I wondered about that question after I left Literati. For some reason, the idea stuck with me — although Dr. Thompson had produced over 700 pages of cited work on the events at Attica in 1971, there had to be some material that she wasn’t able to keep in the final cut. I’ve struggled in the past with knowing what to keep in a piece and what not to. Although I didn’t get a chance to ask about that part of her process, she did indirectly answer it when she discussed balancing tone in her piece.
Dr. Thompson spoke at length of how to deal with communicating trauma. On one hand, too much gore and violence can desensitize a reader to the horror, or could repel a reader. On the other hand, the subject of the book is not rainbows and butterflies and needs to be understood and communicated as the horror it truly was. I appreciated her frankness on the topic, because I think it helped clarify something for me: writing successfully depends a great deal on balance and proportions. When stated so bluntly, the idea seems common sense. Of course an element of writing is balancing different textures. But as I gleaned from Dr. Thompson’s commentary, balancing is actually key to how a reader perceives a text. When deciding on what to keep and what to cut, as a writer I have to decide ultimately what I want a reader to conclude after reading the full thing.
Dr. Thompson’s work is really inspiring, and I’m hoping to read Blood in the Water as soon as I get the chance. It sounds a bit like the works of Erik Larson, who I’m a huge fan of (he wrote Devil in the White City, Dead Wake, and In the Garden of Beasts, to name a few of my favorite books of all time). I also feel inspired to actually try my hand at historical nonfiction — BiW took 13 years to write and it took a lot of digging into sources that weren’t readily available to just anyone, and I think it might be a really cool writing project to tackle some subject that would actually require research into the facts of history, some of which are buried deep.
Finally, I wanted to comment on the event at Literati as a whole. I’ve never been a huge fan of talks or podcasts, but this was actually incredibly interesting to listen in on. Shoutout to Shelley, who created an incredibly warm atmosphere and asked engaging, pertinent questions. Although Dr. Thompson’s content was obviously fascinating, Shelley kept the conversation flow natural and relaxed. Literati itself is a great place to hold an event like this, since it’s relatively small and intimate (and it didn’t hurt that the lights were dimmed and it was snowing outside!). It was as though I were sitting in on a conversation by the fireside, silent but absolutely an active participant in listening.