Erica Simone Turnipseed Gets Real With Her Fiction

Erica Simone Turnipseed recently published Hunger, the sequel to her first novel, A Love Noire. Both books work to ground the relationship between the central characters by placing them in a world recognizable as our own, even to the extent of drawing from recent events. Here, Turnipseed explains why she chooses to embrace the responsibility of getting public stories right in order to tell her own.


The phrase “truth is stranger than fiction” is ubiquitous, at least in English. We often utter it when watching the evening news as some sort of explanatory statement that helps us process the world’s endless parade of madness and sadness, whether man-made or the proverbial act of God. As a fiction writer, I am clear about two things: that the stuff of fiction can be pretty strange, and that fictionalized human drama must ring with authenticity in order for the reader to believe it.

For me, my characters are real: they have a history, a dysfunctional family, favorite haunts, and people who care for them, not least of which is me. When I wrote A Love Noire, and gave birth to the characters of Innocent and Noire, I learned just how real these characters had become: My inbox was full of emails from readers who confessed that they knew Noire, the Afro-wearing Ph.D. student, and her love interest Innocent, a well-heeled investment banker who hailed from Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa. Not only did they know these characters, but many proclaimed that they were these characters! Fictionalized or not, Noire and Innocent—and their family, friends, and colleagues—were real to many.

It was in A Love Noire that I decided to make their universe parallel our own: they lived on real streets in New York City and traveled to historical sites in New Orleans, Charleston, Jamaica, and Côte d’Ivoire. They shared a penchant for the music, clothing, and restaurants of many of the trendy sorts here on our side of planet Earth.

But those things were simple. It gets harder when characters are affected by the incidences of recent history. In most historical fiction, writers can create a plausible, historically accurate story line for their characters knowing that their readers are unlikely to have a personal association with the events. It was quite the opposite when I wrote about the Christmas Eve coup in Côte d’Ivoire as experienced by Innocent and his family: some of my readers had first-hand accounts of it as well.


1 November 2006 | guest authors |

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