Video lit: Truman Capote, 1966
It sounds so obvious now: to follow a crime from beginning to end, to expect that this might tell an interesting story. It describes dozens of TV shows -- "Law & Order," "CSI" and many earlier iterations -- but back in 1966, when "In Cold Blood" was published, people wondered what Truman Capote had been thinking.
The book, of course, was an explosive success, and it gave Capote a kind of national renown few writers achieve. But in 1966, he was still struggling to explain himself -- as he does in this interview (sadly, unembeddable) with the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.
Capote had started out writing short stories in the Southern Gothic mode, displaying a keen ear for dialog and a talent for dark turns. "I began with a highly developed style of one kind, then redeveloped that one style into another," he tells the CBC interviewer.
The mid-'60s interview is interesting: While Capote has a slightly odd presence, he isn't quite as affected -- or as addled -- as he would be in many later appearances. In fact, he's intently focused on writing: why he did it, how he did it and what exactly he was doing.
I always had this idea of writing reportage using all the fictional techniques. They say it's been done before. I say it hasn't been done before, and nobody has convincingly shown me an example yet....
I think that this method of writing has a great relevance to the modern world, in a way that fiction really doesn't have so much anymore. I don't say that reportage is artistically more interesting or profound or anything than fiction, because it's not true. All that I say is that it is an unexplored field, really, artistically. Very little has ever been done with it. It has great possibilities. And it's my theory that reportage could be made every bit as effective and have every bit of emotional and intellectual impact, hit heart and mind at the same time, that fiction does at its absolute best.
Today, the nonfiction bestseller list and awards finalists are jammed full of books just like "In Cold Blood" that use the tricks of fiction to tell tales well. Capote, it seems, wasn't so crazy after all.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Truman Capote in 1948. Credit: Associated Press