07 Feb

I once helped a friend commit identity fraud on a foreign government. Now, if you knew me at all you’d think I was lying about that. I’m a rule follower, a former lawyer for heaven’s sake. But somewhere in the depths of some small South East Asian country’s immigration files there is evidence that, when push came to shove, when I was tired and hot and grumpy I most definitely did not follow the rules.

Now, we didn’t mean to do it. My friend Bailey* is a lawyer and a rule follower too. But when we got off the plane and saw that we’d have to get our visas before we made our way to baggage claim we were stumped. I had an envelope full of passport photos in my carry-on, but her photos were in her checked luggage, out of reach and unavailable. We did the only thing we could think to do. In a country still bearing the scars of rule by a military junta, where, weeks later a taxi driver would ask us if we wanted to go to the genocide museum or the torture museum (answer: NEITHER thanks), I gave Bailey one of my photos and we got in line.

Now, Bailey and I really don’t look much alike. We’re fair-skinned and have grey-streaked brown hair but that’s where the resemblance ends. She’s got brown eyes, mine are blue. Our faces are entirely different shapes. And yet we stood in line and watched a row of five officials, one after the other, look at my visa application and pass it on, then look at hers, and pass it on. Applications with different names, different passports, but the same photo attached. We were standing right there. They looked at us, and looked at the photos, and looked at our passports, and just kept passing those applications down the line until they were back in our grubby, guilty hands. And then we collected our luggage and left the airport and vowed not to speak of it again until we’d left the country.

Not the country we entered illegally. But nearby.

Myanmar was not the country we entered illegally. But isn’t it pretty?

So, what lessons did I learn from this little experience? (1) When in doubt, carry on. (2) Cross-racial identifications really are as difficult and unreliable as researchers claim. (Shorter: we really all look the same to them. “We” and “them” being any different racial or ethnic groups.) (3) That just because something may have happened in real life doesn’t mean it would fly in fiction. I write romantic suspense and I could never expect to write a scene like this and get away with it. Nobody would believe that border officials would be that lax.

What about you, have you ever had an experience where you think: “God, I wish a character could get past this as easily as I just did” but know that no one would think it was realistic? Why does fiction have to be more believable than real life?

*Name changed to protect at least one of the guilty parties. Oh god. We are both so guilty. I still can’t believe we did this.

Realer than Real


15 responses to “Realer than Real

  1. Judith Keim

    February 7, 2013 at 7:38 AM

    Loved the post…and yes, I do that to my characters all the time!! Frustrating but true. I make things too easy for them and then have to go back and remind myself that I need to make things difficult for them in order to keep tension, interest, etc. This was a good reminder to look again at my current work… Thanks!

    • Corina Mallory

      February 7, 2013 at 9:55 AM

      Thanks Judy! It’s a sad truth that good fiction can’t just be realistic, it also has to be believable and interesting and those three things don’t always go together. I always knew writing fiction would be difficult, it’s why I didn’t even try for so many years, but there are just so *many* pitfalls!

  2. marsharwest

    February 7, 2013 at 9:35 AM

    A fascinating story, Corina. As I read the first few lines, I immediately went to “What a story this would make!” And you’re right we have to have our made up stories make sense. But in this instance, I think you could make it fly. Particularly if you made a point about the issue of “us” and “them.” A sad fact of our reality, espcecially until you actually get to know a person.
    I trust you always kept your passport on you after that incident. Kudos for being brave and trying it, especally as a rule follower, which I am. Hard for me to bend the rules. Unfortunately, there are times . . .eh, I don’t know. LOL Glad you didn’t get stuck there.

    Now, as a frequent poster here at your delightful blog, I’m going to take a point of privilege to make an announcement.

    I’ve signed with Muse It Up Publishing for VERMONT ESCAPE, my 4th book, but first to get published. You may remember my coments earlier in the fall about going to Margie Lawson’s mountain retreat. This is the book I worked on all summer using her packets to get ready for her in person. I will always remember to thank her for what I learned. E-published release date sometime this summer, hopefully paper back to follow.

    Thanks for letting me share.:)

    • Corina Mallory

      February 7, 2013 at 10:00 AM

      Congratulations Marsha! That’s fantastic news. I’m sooooo excited for you!

      Even if this story never makes it into one of my books, the feelings – the tension and nerves and general sense of unreality that *I was actually doing this* definitely have informed a *lot* of my writing. Even if the facts don’t fit into a book, the experience turned out to be invaluable in many other ways.

    • Jennifer

      February 7, 2013 at 2:12 PM

      Congratulations Marsha! Very exciting.

  3. Janis McCurry

    February 7, 2013 at 2:05 PM

    Corina, I have the same problem in wanting to write my HEA stories. A couple has problems making romance work, even without Sturm Und Drang, but if we wrote about the every day conflicts to making a relationship last, the editors would laugh us out of the room! It has to be HUGE conflict. It frustrates me, but it is the reality.

  4. Jennifer

    February 7, 2013 at 2:11 PM

    So true. Truth really is stranger than fiction. Sounds like a fascinating experience. Would love to hear more about your trip sometime.

    • Corina Mallory

      February 7, 2013 at 7:13 PM

      It was a great trip. I’d love to go back to Myanmar someday. The country that shall go unnamed in this post … not so eager to return 🙂

  5. stephanieberget

    February 7, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    LOL, Corina. From a rule breaker, here’s my advice, you only live once. It is nerve wracking in the moment though. I love the us and them point. I hadn’t thought of it that way.

    • Corina Mallory

      February 7, 2013 at 7:14 PM

      It’s so true! Some of my best memories are from the times I just said “well, heck with it.”

  6. stephanieberget

    February 7, 2013 at 4:02 PM

    Marsha, congratulations. What fun.

  7. maryvine

    February 7, 2013 at 4:46 PM

    I put in one of my books a clip about seeing a golden eagle take a fish from a bald eagle. My husband actually saw this happen. It does sound unbeliveable though.
    And congrats to Marsha on her first sale!

    • Corina Mallory

      February 7, 2013 at 7:14 PM

      Oooh, I would love to see that!

  8. Lynn Mapp

    February 7, 2013 at 7:09 PM

    Interesting post. It reminded me of a story my high school drama teacher shared. She was out with friends and had forgotten her ID. She decided to brazen it out and “act” as if nothing was out of the ordinary. Greeted security as if they knew each other, she may have even used his name. He didn’t ask to see her ID. Her point was…it’s how you carry out the act that sells it.

    • Corina Mallory

      February 7, 2013 at 7:15 PM

      Attitude can carry you far.


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