© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Source: Author J.R. Helton's Fact-Based Fiction

Cover art by Robert Crumb


No story is completely fiction. Writers draw on their own lives and experiences to create realistic and meaningful stories. But what happens when the boundary between fact and fiction is less clear?

Writer J.R. Helton is the author of multiple books, including Below the Line and Drugs, both about his life experiences. His most recent novel, The Jugheads, explores his own family’s past. 


He admits that his family is not happy with the story. They even requested the original cover design to be changed because it looked too much like them. Still, Helton is unapologetic about his decision to base fiction soundly on fact.

As an artist, he explains that discomfort is sometimes just part of the job—for him and for the reader. Art is not meant to be polite. 

In his words, art is not created “to make people feel good,” including the author himself.

Sifting through these memories is often painful. But for Helton, writing is a way to accurately reflect on what happened and to be an “honest witness” to his time. His writing is not just intensely personal but also a personal journey he tries to share with his readers. The novels aren’t memoirs, despite their basis in reality. Instead, he aims to “figure out what happened” in his own life while writing a novel that others can relate to. His style is an exercise in balance, ethics, history, creativity, and the human experience.

J.R. Helton will be at the San Antonio Book Festival this weekend.


  • J.R. Helton, author of The Jugheads
Stay Connected