Every now and then, as I sit in my lonely writing room that smells of Funyons and KY Jelly, working diligently to craft a story meant to entertain, a little voice inside my head will sound off.
"Self," he'll say (that's what he calls me, "Self"). "Self, this magical little slice of paradise far removed from the maddening crowds doesn't really mesh with how things really work."
I'll find myself nodding and I'll prop my size 15 galoshes up on the desk (my feet are only size 11 but I like to feel pretty when I write). I usually twirl my Snidely Whiplash mustache and take the hand-rolled candy cigarette from behind my ear. I inhale deeply to rid my nostrils of the smell of body odor and moldy applesauce as I contemplate how to rectify the situation.
I don't know why I continue to do this routine. I always handle things the same way.
"Fuck it," I'll say. "It's a story."
Then I'll pull out the belt sander I keep next to my desk for just such occasions and I'll begin whittling down reality until it fits into the neat piece of fiction that I'm trying to create.
I have confessed my sins in notes prior to previous stories but I'll summarize here.
If I find a conflict with true life and the world I'm creating, I make shit up to fit the story if I want to keep the plot point.
"Unforgettable Weeks" is a work of fiction.
Andy Drayton and Regan Riley? They aren't real (and probably wouldn't like each other if they were). The Earl of Smithfield? He doesn't exist and never has. Clairborne-Benedict Prep School for Girls? They've never issued a diploma. Rita Riley doesn't have a billion dollars and if she did Andy Drayton would have been crushed like a dog turd under work boots (along with his mother and anyone else that might have tried to stand up for him).
But, since this is a work of fiction, all these people have somehow found a way to converge in a single place at a single time because … one day while I was at the keyboard I decided they should.
But there are pedants everywhere I suppose so I find myself taking time away from writing my next story to clear up some points in the vain hope that I will get no more e-mails explaining to me (in excruciating detail) the factual errors I have included in this work of fiction.
First, allow me to issue a disclaimer. I hold a master's degree with a specialization in British History after the Reformation (and it is as worthless as Evan Duffield's fictional art history degree - but since I paid real money for mine and he paid for his with make-believe currency, I'm far more pissed off about that fact than he is). The first full-length piece that appeared under my name was a thesis documenting the unintended consequences of the various Peerage Acts that have been passed by the House of Commons in the past several centuries.
I know the difference between "nobility," "royalty," "aristocracy" and "hereditary peerage." If I didn't, there is this handy thing called the dictionary. It's a great tool and one I use often (but apparently not often enough to suit some of you).
It is my contention, however, that most people neither know nor much care. To this end, I conducted a purely unscientific poll on the subject as I was writing this work of fiction.
The sample size was small, I will grant you (10-15 people). But it encompassed a wide-range of ages (early teens to mid-50s) and a wider range of education and background (still in middle school to professors at a local university). Two of the unknowing poll participants were born in the United Kingdom and spent the majority of their lives there. To them (as to most of the others), the words above are synonymous. They interchange them without regard to any actual claim to the throne or linkage by blood to the ruling monarch.
Even the two Brits (a professor of literature and a woman that runs a bed and breakfast) dismissed the differences as inconsequential in the United States.
What I found most interesting is that the two Brits had far less knowledge of the peerage than my wife (also a professor at the university). She is the lone person I queried that was certain a child born outside of wedlock would be ineligible for a hereditary peerage. The two Brits were divided but neither was positive. The professor thought Andy would be eligible; the innkeeper thought he'd probably be ineligible. What I found most interesting was that each declared firmly (and erroneously) that Andy would be eligible if Evan were to adopt him. The professor was so certain that he sought to prove it to me (because that's how professors are - I know this because I've been married to two of them). He found that an adopted child may not inherit a hereditary title but often is given one of the holder's lesser titles. He also triumphantly noted that for many centuries, a child was considered legitimate if he was born after a marriage or if his parents later married.
The most recent peerage act passed the House of Commons in 1999. Much later in the story one of the characters goes into detail about what exactly an illegitimate child can inherit as far as British custom and law is concerned. But that chapter is several weeks from being posted and I don't want to continue to answer the same emails dozens of times.
This is where the belt sander comes in.
I have taken it upon myself to remove a few sentences from the Peerage Act of 1963 and add a few to the House of Lords Act of 1999.
It is fiction after all and I am the one sitting at the keyboard. Later in the story, I clear up much of the confusion but, for now, please accept this piece of advice as it is intended.
I write a story to give the reader a few moments away from reality. I gloss over some aspects of how life really operates. I change reality to fit the needs of the story (like creating an earl that never existed or making up a computer program that would have been created long before if it was actually possible).
This isn't a biography. It is not meant to be a sketch of Andrew Ryan Drayton and his rise to prominence (he isn't real).
I am heartened that some readers think I've created characters that seem lifelike. The truth is, they aren't. I hate to be the one to announce it publicly but very little you read in _fiction_ is meant to mirror real life exactly. A person can't get sucked into a computer game; millionaires don't fall in love with hookers; Superman doesn't exist.
Like Andy and his world, these constructions are fiction.