Fiction Does Truth … Better

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.”
Doris Lessing

“Fiction is the lie that tells the truth.” (From the article, “Truth in Fiction: 3 Lessons from Neil Gaiman on Storytelling”)


Fiction has a storied record of taking readers deep into issues and lives and tragedies. The truths in Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Jungle and countless works of fiction peel away what lies hidden and what people have tried to hide.

Many, many current mysteries, even the cozies that we love, take us on issue field trips we need to take. Like these:

A Child Shall Lead Them by Maine Crime Writers author, Kate Flora

When a jogger discovers the brutalized body of a young girl along a park trail, the ever cranky and relentless, Detective Joe Burgess catches the case.

With the body lacking head and hands, Burgess and his team face complex challenges as they follow a confusing trail leading to human traffickers exploiting children coming to America as asylum seekers.

As Joe and his team race the clock to identify the dead girl in time to save other victims, Joe’s own niece falls into the hands of the sex traffickers. For detectives hell-bent on finding a killer and busting a trafficking ring . . . it just got personal.

A Real Issue: Surviving ‘The Life’: Maine a ‘source state’ for sex traffickers |


Clammed Up by Barbara Ross.

It’s summertime in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, and the clamming is easy—or it was until a mysterious new neighbor blocks access to the beach, cutting off the Snowden Family Clambake’s supply. Julia Snowden is just one of many townspeople angered by Bartholomew Frick’s decision. But which one of them was angry enough to kill?
Beachcombers, lighthouse buffs, and clammers are outraged after Frick puts up a gate in front of his newly inherited mansion. When Julia urges him to reconsider, she’s the last to see him alive—except the person who stabs him in the neck with a clam rake. As she pores through a long list of suspects, Julia meets disgruntled employees, rival heirs, and a pair of tourists determined to visit every lighthouse in America. They all have secrets, and Julia will have to work fast to expose the guilty party—or see this season’s clam harvest dry up for good.

A Real Issue: Maine Superior Court Justice John O’Neil ruled in a decision earlier this week that intertidal zones – those stretches of beaches between the high- and low-water marks – belong to the property owners who live upland.  More info: Accessing the Maine Coast


Open Season by C. J. Box

Joe Pickett is the new game warden in Twelve Sleep, Wyoming, a town where nearly everyone hunts and the game warden—especially one like Joe who won’t take bribes or look the other way—is far from popular. When he finds a local hunting outfitter dead, splayed out on the woodpile behind his state-owned home, he takes it personally. Even after the “outfitter murders,” as they have been dubbed by the local press after the discovery of the two more bodies, are solved, Joe continues to investigate, uneasy with the easy explanation offered by the local police.

As Joe digs deeper into the murders, he soon discovers that the outfitter brought more than death to his backdoor: he brought Joe an endangered species, thought to be extinct, which is now living in his woodpile. But if word of the existence of this endangered species gets out, it will destroy any chance of InterWest, a multi-national natural gas company, building an oil pipeline that would bring the company billions of dollars across Wyoming, through the mountains and forests of Twelve Sleep. The closer Joe comes to the truth behind the outfitter murders, the endangered species and InterWest, the closer he comes to losing everything he holds dear. (This novel is part of a new Spectrum series on game warden Joy Pickett.)

 Real Issue: While it is illegal to introduce “endangered” wolves into Maine, there is work to identify wolf sitings. Protection would not happen without a pack being present. And find the Maine Wolf Coalition.


I’ve written two murder mysteries that also dig into truths.

Deadly Trespass pulls the endangered species issue into threats to Maine’s forests. In this excerpt the narrator frees wolves that have been caught and caged.

I hobbled into the barn. Caught in mid-howl, the wolves froze.

“Alright, team,” I said, fumbling with the tape on the door. “Your family’s come to pick you up. Everyone ready to go? Be swift out there. Know your poison and your traps. Have lots of pups. It’s OK to eat miniature pets but no retrievers. The words caught as I leaned my face into the mesh. “I am so sorry I thought you could be tools or strategies or policies. Go. Go be wolves.”

I yanked the gate and dropped to the ground, body curled in fetal, bear-attack position, injured leg twitching. I tried to count small gusts of wolf air that blew by me. Against all rational behavior, I lowered my arms. Mekong’s yellow dagger eyes calmly explored mine. She swung her head toward the barn door, where one pup hung over the sill, waiting.

I grinned. You’re welcome.

Don’t mess with us again.

I hope someday I get to see you running wild in the woods.

Don’t count on it.

She sprang at the door and butted her child out of sight. I stumbled into the field to watch a yowling, wagging, licking family reunion over the deer carcass.

The Real Issue: Montana has made killing wolves easier. Some hunters are pushing back. (


Deadly Turn re-visits Maine’s woods to take a hard look at eagles, birds, wind power, and carbon reduction opportunities. In this excerpt the narrator’s smart daughter schools her mother on the unexpected.

Kate’s face brightened. “There’s tons of calculations in forestry. It’s not just boys with axes any more. Folks crunching numbers are all over the place analyzing the forest’s outputs and versatility. I’m headed toward the new stuff. My advisor teaches Climate and Carbon Dynamics and even though I’m not that far along in the program, he lets me audit that class.”

“Smarty-pants,” I said.

“Yup. I am. Your idea about how Maine should appreciate what it has—tons of trees rather than putting industrial energy in remote locations? Well, it didn’t look like you got beyond the public relations thing. It looked like you were working the spin part, but you never got to the math.” She grinned a very wide grin that quickly disappeared. “I’ve got the math. The proof. And most of my notes were in the pack that got stolen.”

“How far did you get?” I asked.

The damselflies were back, this time hooked up in mid-air to mate right in front of us. Kate ignored them. “The math might disappoint some environmental organizations who thought wind power was a climate-change answer for us here. It’s weird. I can run computer models based on real field research. I can show how growing Maine trees and leaving them longer on the land before they’re harvested pulls more carbon from the air than any other carbon reduction strategy we could go for.”

The Real Issue: One of my previous Maine Crime Writers posts takes on trees, carbon, and a solution that makes Maine the largest carbon reduction site in the U.S.

Deadly Assault, my next Mystery in Maine arrives this year with a body slipped under spring ice, sassy otters, real estate development that’s run amok, a salamander rescue (yes, they’re small, but …) and more threats to Patton and her wayward lab, Pock.

Sandy’s debut novel, “Deadly Trespass, A Mystery in Maine” won a national Mystery Writers of America award, was a finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, and was a finalist for a Maine Literary Award. The second Mystery in Maine, “Deadly Turn,” was published in 2021. Her third “Deadly” is due out in 2022. Find her novels at all Shermans Books (Maine) and on Amazon. Find more info on Sandy’s website.


Writing from Moosehead Lake, ME








About Sandra Neily

Sandy’s novel “Deadly Trespass” received a Mystery Writers of America award, was named a national finalist in the Women’s Fiction Writers Association “Rising Star” contest, a finalist in the Mslexia international novel competition, a runner- up in Maine’s Joy of the Pen competition, and recently, an international SPR fiction finalist. Sandy lives in the woods of Maine and says she’d rather be “fly fishing cold streams, skiing remote trails, paddling near loons, or just generally out there—unless I’m sharing vanishing worlds with my readers. "
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7 Responses to Fiction Does Truth … Better

  1. Pingback: Fiction Does Truth … Better – Maine Reportings

  2. John Clark says:

    Every day, there’s at least one headline in a Maine newspaper that begs to be turned into a good fictional tale.

  3. Great post, Sandy! Did you take the Neil Gaiman class? Good luck with your event today in Greenville.


    • Sandra Neily says:

      Thanks, Kate. I found a number of Maine trafficking articles to support how you made the story come alive beyond just….news. And the Neil G. storytelling info is on an article on line. Thx!

  4. Shelley Burbank says:

    Great post and list of thought-provoking books!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Thanks, Shelley. I’ve read all the books I suggested and think they are great reads, just as reads. I think we know that the craft of bringing the reader along and turning pages is the most important task for us., even as we care about showcasing an issue. Thanks for reaching out.

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