Publication: “The Night the Billado Block Burned Down”

Main Street, Enosburg Falls, Vermont, February 2, 2005 (Photo credit: St. Albans Messenger, Retrieved from http://www.vtgrandpa.com, 9.1.2019)
View of Main Street Fire from Church Street, Enosburg Falls, Vermont, February 2, 2005 (Photo credit: St. Albans Messenger, Retrieved from http://www.vtgrandpa.com, 9.1.2019) The church in the foreground of the picture is St. Matthew’s Episcopal. My dad was the parish priest there from 1966 – c. 1979.

I’m pleased to share that my short story, “The Night the Billado Block Burned Down,” has been published in the July 29th edition of Metaworker Literary Magazine. The impetus for the story was a 2005 fire in my hometown of Enosburg Falls, Vermont that destroyed one of the downtown blocks. I’ve written about two of the downtown blocks previously, the Perley Block in my debut novel, Telling Sonny, and the Ben Franklin Block in the short story, “Living in the Ben Franklin Block.”

As I was looking for the photographs to illustrate this post, I immediately saw that I had the wrong block in the story. It was the Depatie Block that had burned down, not the Billado Block! How could I have made such a mistake? In the aftermath of the fire, my husband and I had actually been to the site and taken pictures. I knew which block it was.

The rubble behind the chainlink fence is where Spears Pharmacy was located when I lived in Enosburg in the 1970s. The actual Billado Block is the brick building across the street.

The only reason I can think of for the discrepancy is that I changed the site of the fire from the Depatie Block to the Billado Block so that I could have alliteration in the title of my story.  Simply put, it sounded better.

The question this leaves me with as a writer who tends to use real-life settings in my fiction is:

How far I can go with changing real-life places and events to suit my story before readers are pulled out of the illusion of the story, thereby becoming unwilling to suspend their disbelief? Or is it a matter of caveat lector (let the reader beware)?

I’d love to hear what you think!

134 thoughts on “Publication: “The Night the Billado Block Burned Down”

  1. It depends on how much of a journalist you want to be. But even Twain would fictionalize real places and events in his work. Have you read his autobiography? There’s a lot of content in it that’s definitely exaggerated or just plain false in order to make a better story. IMO, Billado sounds better, so don’t alter it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Rob. I customarily fictionalize real events, people, and places to suit the story–but for some reason, when I saw the picture of the fire and realized that it was the Depatie Block that had burned, I felt that I’d betrayed the town somehow. Strange.

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      1. I’m working on a memoir, and I become stuck in the places where fact is glossed over. It’s the same with art – when I’m sketching, I lose the flow if I think I’m mucking up the details. Then I remind myself that this is art, and art is expression, and the reader/observer will not (hopefully) get tripped up as I do.

        Liked by 3 people

        1. I think it’s an even trickier tightrope to walk for memoir because events and details are filtered through our individual memories–yet there is a line that we shouldn’t cross. What I’ve seen some memoirists do is basically set the rules for the game at the beginning of the book in an introduction or forward. Then the reader knows up front what the balance between subjective filtering and objective relating of events is going to be.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. I think that tips the balance to fiction and poetic license. Will you be talking about this work-in-progress on your blog? (I’m interested!) If not, that’s okay, too. I’ll just wait for the publication announcement. (I know there are differing schools of thought/superstitions about discussing works-in-progress.)

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Liz, how are you?

    Firstly, congratulations on your publication…’tis another success to add to the growing list: the Gauffreau residence must be alive with celebration.

    Secondly. in response to your question: if I wanted dry, factual realism I’d read a quality newspaper…but even then I’d still question the article’s (objective) authenticity.

    Thirdly, and most importantly, your short-story is a treat to read, thank you. Her deadpan wit and matter-of-fact delivery is a pleasurable delight! Sympathetic to the last, I hope she’ll be happy in the new ‘rat-hole of a studio apartment in the Perley Block .’

    Dare I say, you are on fire Liz 😉

    DN

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m fine, thank you, Dewin! You make a good point about the objective authenticity of nonfiction. In my Family Archives, I have some newspaper articles about family members, and some of the facts are simply incorrect. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. This is one that started with just that first line of dialog popping into my head. I’ll forgive the pun (she said, with an indulgent smile).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good to hear you are in fine fettle Liz with a smile on your dial. Indulge, indulge, success should be enjoyed! 🙂

        Your story was very much appreciated – as evidenced by those who’ve commented here. It’s also interesting to know your muse popped a pebble in your pond and rippled mindful waters. I wonder how often she/he does that? 😉

        More writing if you please!

        Have a wonderful weekend. Take care.

        DN

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Kudos, Liz! What a great story—a richly drawn protagonist, unpredictable situations, humor, subtext with a bit of bite, and vivid settings. I enjoyed every word, and I’m glad many will now have a chance to read it.

    The timing of your question is interesting. I just received my October 2019 version of *The Writer* and last night read an article titled “How to Fictionalize Your Hometown,” by Lauren Puckett. If you don’t have a subscription, your library might carry it; mine does. Anyway, the article discusses several dos and don’ts, warning there’s no perfect way to do it, and it’s not easy. Near the end of the piece, Puckett writes:

    “Prepare yourself for a difficult lesson: You can’t make everyone happy—even under the guise of fiction…. Give your setting the context it needs and deserves, but don’t shudder away from creative leaps because you fear reader reactions. If the story resonates, then you did your job.” And I dare say yours resonates beautifully.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I think you can change the block (or whatever) as long as you don’t promote the story as nonfiction. You could add a note at the end of publications saying the story was inspired by the fire on Depatie Block. Congratulations on the publication. Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment, Chris! That’s good advice. Now, that you mention it, I think there’s pretty clear distinctions among my fiction, creative nonfiction memory stories, and nonfiction family history, which uses source citations.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Congratulations on the publication of your story, Liz. On your question, I would say you walk on tender ground. If you question or wonder, that in itself may be reason enough to follow your heart, not your head.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A great story, Liz. Although it was a dramatic event, I like the way the main character took it in her stride, as just another ‘sh*tty thing in her life to be dealt with. I laughed that her parents had left for Canada! My father used to get very annoyed when he found factual inaccuracies in fiction to the point of refusing to read the book any further. I used to tell him to calm down because the story was fiction after all. Now that I am older, I am developing some of his antipathy towards factual inaccuracies. However, in the case of your story, I wasn’t concerned because I had no knowledge, prior to this of the fire and where it was. It’s a tricky situation for a writer.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hmmm, not sure that I can. Maybe it’s about connection. I like to connect with stories in some way or other. Sometimes it is through a character, or sometimes through a setting. To connect, there has to be a type of touch stone. This may be a description of a street, an event, a journey, an experience of sorrow; anything really. But, if suddenly I find something which is not authentic, say the use of a colour which didn’t exist in the time frame of the story, I begin to lose faith in the connections which I have already made. Fortunately this doesn’t happen very often.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. This is something I have thought a lot about myself. As a journalist, I am prone to do thorough research and staying true to what actually happened, but as I am now working on a fiction book based on real events in the past, and real people for that matter, I find it a bit of a balance act deciding on what shall be told truthfully and what can be altered to make the story better. Right now, I am thinking that if you don’t say it’s a true story, you’re free to fictionalize it as you please. I don’t think it ruins it for the reader – it’s just a matter of how far you allow yourself to go. And in this case, I do like the alliteration!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Assuming that a story’s only claim to factuality is that it is “based on” something that really happened (and that gross distortions like swapping who fired a war’s first shot are avoided), I’d say it’s OK to go very far indeed.

        Might be nice to have a list of departures and their motivations available for those who are curious.  “Yo, Herman.  How come your doomed ship is named *Pequod* rather than *Essex*?”

        Full disclosure: I am a sucker for alliteration.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Congratulations on your publication, Liz! You created a “real” person that exists in reality. I love how you fashioned the decision-making process throughout the story. How one decision leads to another, to another and another, each compelling a distinct reaction. Travel, disappointment, cleaning to trailer – all work together to create an atmosphere of disappointment. And then the point when destiny steps in changes the trajectory of lives – three in this case. At last, redemption.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Rebecca. I do have a fondness for both metacognition and redemption–in fiction and in real life! (When I lived in Florida, the sense of decay all around juxtaposed against the sunshine just spoke to me of broken dreams. )

      Liked by 1 person

  9. First of all, congratulations on the publication! Well earned! My husband’s home town had a block fire back in 1934 which he witnessed as a 2-year-old and wrote about in his 70’s. His was as part of autobiography, so ideally it was pretty accurate. He did check newspaper clippings from the time to be sure. However – I would say that if you’re using the actual fire as your foundation, but in a fiction story, you have plenty of leeway to do your own thing. Now I’m going to go read it…

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Oh, wow! You are just amazing! The detail, the characters, the hopelessness, the resignation, everything comes alive right away. I could feel it all! You are a consummate story-weaver and thank goodness, it is so much a part of you that we all get to be blessed. I can’t wait for more! And for remembering the wrong block?? No problem!!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. First: congratulations on being published!! Second: as a fiction writer I’d say you can do whatever you want to do. 😉 And an alliteration is a good reason too because people usually like them or otherwise there wouldn’t be as many people with the same first letter in both their names. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  12. My opinion is to not worry about the location, if you’re writing fiction. When I read fiction, I’m reading for the characters and their story–if they’re at a beach, I don’t care which beach; if they dine at a particular restaurant, I don’t need it to be an actual place–just give some description for ambiance as you tell me what the characters are talking about, where the story’s going while they have their meal. Hope that’s helpful! Thanks for your visits to my blog–much appreciated. And I do appreciate your question–I was going to write a novel set in a fictitious town in Florida…and got bogged down with how real/important “place” needed to be…

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome, Liz! And thanks for asking about my novel-forever-in-progress 🙂 It just got longer and longer–like those big fat paperback novels I loved as a teenager 🙂 A few months ago I decided to completely rework it, as to location and point of view, story line/premise, etc….but nothing’s happening now, as blogging takes all my creative writing time/energy. Thanks again–and I hope your writing is going very well!

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi Liz. That was quite a tale. Fiction is great but to tell a real event like fiction is tough. So great on that. Also just read your credentials
    Three cheers for that too. Is your book on Kindle or amazon? Id like to read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Sonia! And thank you for your interest in Telling Sonny. If you click on the cover image in in the sidebar, it will take you to Amazon, where you can purchase on Kindle or in print.

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  14. Congratulations!!! Well, from my literary analysis days–fiction writers are allowed to take “reality” and create with it–interpreting underlying truths about society/the human condition that readers may come to understand. So, yes–it’s all fair game to some extent:)

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Resonating! I read it through a couple of times.

    “I think it’s this one,” says Jason. He stopped the truck and killed the engine. Then he got out of the truck–but I stayed right where I was, while he fished in his pocket, pulled out a key, and unlocked the door. I was already starting to sweat from the AC being off.” – this was a poignant moment to me. Stopped the truck and killed the engine – do we come to a point in our life where we stop and never go further, to join the ranks of those who are living and not.

    Are Andre and Jason lazy or have they found an odd contentment that we don’t understand.

    The block names didn’t bother me at all. In fact it sort of added to the story itself for me. Lives are full of “blocks” and bus rides whose names and window views are so similar that we blur their names. Which was it again…

    The fire and the earlier leaving, both are a chance at a fresh start, new man, new place, new day…yet she seems the same, smokey and without hope.

    Fantastic story Liz!! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful commentary, Suzanne! It means the world to me that you thought so deeply about the story. I particularly appreciated this comment: “Lives are full of “blocks” and bus rides whose names and window views are so similar that we blur their names.” So true.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think u did! But an operation later & I’d forgotten, please remind anytime of anything 😊We lived in (at the time) a seniors’ 1800s house divided into beautiful apts on College St & it was next door to a grand old house part of, I think, Champlain College, or one of the other colleges there (other than UVM). I’ll have to check Google maps, lol 😊

        Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m fond of alliteration also, so my vote is to keep Billado in the title! I suppose a comment in an afterword could set the record straight, along with other asides not incorporated into your story. Then you can have your cake/title and eat/tell-the-truth too!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Great question! I tend to be one of those picky picky readers who notices the “that’s not right” in stories. It’s usually not about a place, but about something specific in which I have some knowledge (camping in the snow, for example).Once I made that writerly mistake of getting the details wrong and was called out on it! Now I’m more careful to either research something to death or skip the details that might show my ignorance. I’m from Vermont and honestly wouldn’t know one block from the other in Enosburg Falls. So I’m sure your safe from scrutiny by everyone but your old neighbors. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I do fear those picky picky readers because I happen to be one of them . I tend toward your strategy of researching to death or skipping the detail if I’m not 100% sure. In other instances, I decide to take a calculated risk and just go for it. In this instance, the alliteration just got the better of me. Thank you for stopping by and commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. For the sake of using alliteration in the title to draw the reader in, that’s just what I would do… Right or wrong? I think it’s perfectly fine in fiction, but an author’s note to readers in a memoir would suffice, I suspect,,, Perhaps also for historical fiction, since there are sure to be readers from the neighborhood/community. Just my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Bette! My novel is set in Enosburg in the 1920s and the early 1950s. I’m hanging my hat on the fact anyone who really could call me on incorrect or fudged details is no longer among the living. On the other hand, I’m working on a short story collection of historical fiction set in Enosburg, some of which is relatively recent, so I think your suggestion of on an author’s note is a good idea.

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Always incline toward the alliteration. This would be my instinct, too!
    Any fool could torch the Depatie, but the Billado really burns!
    (Thank you, Liz, as always, for your encouragement)

    Ars Gratia Artis
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment, Nick! I do tend to favor alliteration (in moderation, of course). I haven’t been able to find a report of a cause of the Depatie Block fire. It was a fire trap in the ’70s when I was in high school, so it wouldn’t have taken much to set it off. I’d guess a cigarette or bad wiring.

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      1. My tired eyes read that as ‘a cigarette or bad writing’ for a moment there!

        Our family home burned down in 1976. We were away at the time. It remains to this day a mystery and one of the defining chapters of my life I suppose as I’ve always wondered of the what ifs. x

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I suppose particularly bad purple prose could burn down a building.

          I can see how losing your family home to fire could affect the course of your life. Losing my house to a fire while we’re away is one of my biggest anxieties. Arriving home, I hold my breath until I see that it’s still there.

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          1. True!

            I’ve returned to that plot (of land) several times over my life (a clifftop in Dorset); i suppose to look for ghosts or something. There is a new house there now and the successive families have always let me look around the garden, the cliff edge. But all I’ve ever found is that the view of Portland, of Lyme Regis, of the bay, has never changed. It is an enduring mystery to me – and my folks, who were younger than I am now then – to my younger brothers it holds little. I read somewhere on your comments earlier something about the vividness of youthful memory and the cloudiness of later life. The house fire and all that came before it (ages 6 – 13) seem almost like one life and everything since another.

            These days, before I leave for London every sixth week for a few days work, I clean and prepare my little home for my return. It’s always a delight, and a relief, to see the spider plants are still thriving when I come back!

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