Fiction by Non-Fiction Authors

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Fiction by Non-Fiction Authors

Redigerat: jun 3, 2023, 5:40 pm

I was recently excited to discover that Irving Finkel had written a novel or two. I've also gotten my hands on one of the novels co-authored by Joscelyn Godwin. I am a peculiar fan of Tetrarch, a fantasy novel by the author best known for writing The Joy of Sex.

I can appreciate how someone who mostly writes expository non-fiction can get to a point where they want to try using fiction either to communicate some of the same ideas to a more "recreational" audience, or to communicate related ideas that just can't be boiled down into factual framing.

My own library has examples of the complementary phenomenon: The Edge of the Unknown by Arthur Conan Doyle and Lost Continents by L. Sprague de Camp. But that doesn't seem to be such an interesting development, since fiction writers commonly do the sort of research that could result in non-fiction if that were their goal. I'm more curious about what detours an accomplished writer of non-fiction into the fictional space.

maj 31, 2023, 3:50 pm

Contact by Carl Sagan is the first to come to mind, and I'm having trouble coming up with much else. There's plenty of SF written by scientists, but I don't know whether any of them also wrote popular-level nonfiction so that they'd be considered non-fiction authors.

maj 31, 2023, 4:43 pm

How about Fred Hoyle? Major figure in astrophysics in the 50s and 60s, wrote at least one popular book on stellar astrophysics (actually, looking at his Wikipedia article, there’s quite a list of non-technical non-fiction) and then a novel, The Black Cloud, which manages to be a good read despite a slightly clunky style. There were quite a few more novels and a play.

maj 31, 2023, 4:57 pm

Off the top of my head, I think Asimov wrote both NF and SciFi.

Also, Barbara Mertz (Egyptology) wrote fic under Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels.

Redigerat: maj 31, 2023, 5:02 pm

>1 paradoxosalpha: When I posted #3, I was still thinking about science non-fiction and fiction, but that isn’t quite what you said, is it? Did you mean to include any writers of non-fiction on any topic who also write fiction? If so, there’s lots of them. Incidentally, I have a copy of Tetrarch but haven’t got around to reading it.

maj 31, 2023, 5:06 pm

>1 paradoxosalpha: A lot of historians dabble into fiction - some more successfully than others.

Alison Weir for example - her non-fiction is lively, almost reads like a novel despite being historically sound so you would think she would excel when she started writing novels and The Lady Elizabeth was pretty good. And then there was The Marriage Game which is... bad (my review here:

maj 31, 2023, 5:08 pm

>4 genesisdiem:

I think of Asimov as a fiction writer who wrote (a lot of) non-fiction.

Mertz/Peters/Michaels is interesting for the division of her authorial persona. I've read a couple dozen Amelia Peabody books, but I've never read any of her scholarly work.

>5 haydninvienna:

My examples weren't sf (at least not by my lights), and I didn't mean that to be the focus. It's possible that sf encourages this sort of thing, though.

maj 31, 2023, 5:21 pm

>7 paradoxosalpha:

I always think of Barbara Michaels as a fiction writer, probably because in terms of sheer numbers her fiction overwhelms her non-fiction. Looking at publication dates, it seems she wrote a couple of non-fiction books and then shifted entirely to fiction.

maj 31, 2023, 10:37 pm

>8 lilithcat: Red Land, Black Land is super interesting and reads almost as easily as fiction!

jun 1, 2023, 11:01 am

genesisdiem (#4):

Yes, of course, but Asimov is primarily known for his fiction, which isn't what the OP is looking for.

jun 1, 2023, 4:25 pm

Alan Lightman's Einstein's Dreams is on my TBR, haven't got around to it yet so can't really comment

Redigerat: jun 1, 2023, 4:38 pm

If we move beyond scientists, how about J I M Stewart: Professor at Oxford; various books on literary topics; novels under his own name and as Michael Innes.

And of course C S Lewis: first an Oxford don, then a Professor at Cambridge; works on literary topics; many popular essays: novels; Narnia. Even wrote a short essay entitled “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Best Say What’s to be Said”.

jun 1, 2023, 4:47 pm

>11 SandraArdnas:

It's a bit odd, but I loved it!

jun 1, 2023, 5:00 pm
Donald Trump’s niece Mary and accuser E Jean Carroll team up on romance novel

jun 1, 2023, 5:57 pm

>12 haydninvienna:

Based on his reception among readers, C. S. Lewis is an author of fantasy and science fiction foremost, and only secondarily an (execrable IMNSHO) pop theologian and memoirist. If you look at how the books stack up by copy count on his author page, that's pretty clear.

I started reading The Allegory of Love when I was studying medieval literature, and I was not sufficiently impressed with his insights there to finish the book.

jun 3, 2023, 5:02 pm

Henry Beetle Hough made his reputation as a writer of non-fiction: Country Editor (1940) was a famous-in-its-day memoir and Once More the Thunderer (1950), and its lesser-known sequel, is even better; Singing in the Morning (1951) is a lovely book of short essays about nature and place; Martha's Vineyard: Summer Resort, 1835-1935 (1936) is still the definitive work on the subject.

He did multiple books of collected essays, a collection of his letters, a biography of Thoreau, two books about whaling, and more. Yet, his great ambition was to be a novelist, and he wrote eight of them over 30 years or so. They're largely forgotten today -- not without reason, though Lament for a City (1960) is readable -- but the breadth of his ambition is impressive.

jun 5, 2023, 4:57 pm

John Vaillant wrote a novel, The Jaguar's Children. And classics scholar Natalie Haynes writes both.

Redigerat: jun 5, 2023, 5:59 pm

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and historian David Halberstam spent two years (1962-1964) in Vietnam during the early stages of the American involvement in the Vietnam War as a correspondent for the New York Times. He returned and, in addition to all the reporting he'd done, wrote a nonfiction book on the subject, The Making of a Quagmire. Then he wrote a novel, One Very Hot Day, published in 1968. The book was republished in 1985, at which time Halberstam included an afterword, which included the following:

. . . after I left in 1964, I wrote a non fiction book,The Making of a Quagmire. That was, as they say, a lot of words on Vietnam. But even so there was a part of me which wanted to tell something more, what, for lack of a better description, the war felt like on a given day. I wanted to portray the frustrations, and the emptiness, of this war. It was after all a smaller and, I think, less tidy war than Americans were accustomed to, and almost nothing that happened in it fit the preconceptions of Westerners. So, starting in 1966, I sat down and wrote One Very Hot Day.

I read and reviewed the novel, which I thought was quite good, way back in 2013. My review is on the book's work page, in case anyone's interested.