Years ago I did historical research for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. A coal-fired power plant run by the Northern Indiana Public Service Company bordered the park. Ponds for disposal of fly ash, a coal combustion product, were leaking onto park land, raising the water table. At issue was whether the seepage was destroying the original ecology or, as NIPSCO claimed, restoring wetlands that prevailed before farmers dug drainage ditches in the 1800s.
Young and foolish, I asked IDNL senior scientist Dr. Bill Hendrickson what to do if our drainage ditch findings supported NIPSCO’s claim. He replied, “We want to know what you find, not what you think we want to hear.” It was a learning moment for me. National Park Service scientists continue to command my respect, as Bill did, by their insistence in putting facts before policy. They did it again last week.
As a writer of both fiction and nonfiction, I relish creative imagination as well as verified facts. We can value both, so long as we know which we’re dealing with. Some historical novels and literary memoirs add a note telling the reader where fiction and fact diverge. That clarity marks the difference between tall tales and falsification. What are alternative facts, after all, but another name for fiction?
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.