On January 1, 2002 I had finally finished authoring my latest fiction book, which is titled The Great Teen Fruit War, A 1960’ Novel. The work was quite a Promethean task to complete, having 162,000 words on 468 pages presented in 46 Chapters. When I read my final draft, I think I felt a little like Victor Frankenstein must have when he first fully viewed the monster that he had created.
The Great Teen Fruit War is set in 1960’ Hammonton and involves conflict between the Blues, the sons of blueberry farmers and the Reds, the sons of peach farmers (please remember, a novel is fiction). The Blues are the antagonists and wear button-down blue denim jackets, and the Reds are the protagonists and wear zip-up red James Dean’ jackets like those worn by the famous actor in the 1955 classic film, Rebel without a Cause. The Great Teen Fruit War is the sequel to Black Leather and Blue Denim, A ‘50s Novel.
In the Great Teen Fruit War, Bellevue Avenue is the dividing line between blueberry country to the east and peach territory to the west. To spice up the story, the Reds have one “antagonist” named Ronald “Goose” Restuccio, the son of a Mafia kingpin. Complicating matters even further is a third gang, The Ramrodders, a group of greasers that interact with the Reds and the Blues.
Now here’s the essential difference between fiction and non-fiction. The Fruit War’s setting is real, but the story and the characters are not. Most of the “characters” are composite, a combination of two or more people I have known. I have taken elements from these past acquaintances and synthesized each of them into a new person just like Victor Frankenstein had done with his monster.
In all due respect to Hammonton Gazette writers Gabe Donio and Gina Rullo, front-page journalism or news reporting is relatively easy compared to short story or novel authoring. Newspaper journalism is basically accurate descriptive narrative’ writing that involves answers to the questions Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? and then the reporter provides a few direct quotes and a first paragraph hook that captures the reader’s attention. The hook is the only element that really requires any degree of imagination.
Now Gabe Donio and Gina Rullo take the Hammonton Gazette to a higher level of thinking when they write the Editorial Page, because now we have opinion based on fact, which involves interpretation, analysis, problem solving and controversy. These are “higher level’ thinking skills” where some local citizens might become inflamed because they didn’t savor the way certain facts have been interpreted, analyzed or problem solved.
However, Gabe and Gina are still honoring their oath to good journalism by basing their judgments and conclusions on fact, even if they adroitly employ persuasive writing techniques.
Short story and novel writing use facts as their basis also, but then they deviate from factual writing (journalism, biography, etc.) when the author creates imaginary characters, plots, situations, subplots, themes and conflicts. Novel writing requires the highest forms of thinking skills, a continuous combination of creativity and synthesis.
It is always easier to borrow than to invent. Most authors know this very well since just about all plot ideas have already been created. It is hard to be absolutely creative where everything or anything in your book is entirely original and invented. And so, most authors depend heavily upon “reactionary creativity,” combining personalities we have known into a new protagonist or new antagonist (synthesis) or taking ordinary objects and attributing to them extraordinary functions.
For example, in The Great Teen Fruit War the Reds had a problem.
They had stolen seven hundred fifty thousand dollars from a Blues’ father and had to dispose of the cash in a hurry. Waaala! They break into Bruni’s Pizzeria, put the cash in one of the ovens, set the temperature to five hundred degrees and evacuate the premises. The author had once read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 and knew that books (paper) burn at 451 degrees, and naturally, the paper money in the pizza oven would disintegrate overnight at 500 degrees. “Reactionary creativity” had been employed.
In another scenario, the nefarious Blues capture two Reds and vertically attach the dual victims’ crucifixion-style to the Fairview Avenue’ railroad crossing gates. When a train zips by, the gates are lowered with the two peach-gang’ kids still attached. Whether or not this is possible in terms of engineering physics or mathematics is unknown by the author (or most of his readers). However, it is another example of taking familiar ordinary objects and ascribing a different function to them, or what I call “reactionary creativity.”
In another chapter called “The Scavenger Hunt,” two teams of Reds and Blues must visit fifteen places in 1960’ Hammonton and vicinity. Greenmount and Oak Grove’ Cemeteries, the giant Renault Champagne bottle on Route 30 in Elm, the Sons of Italy on 3th Street and Angelo’s Store in Rosedale (among other local places) must be visited in a competition to obtain information from inscriptions and signs. The data retrieved must be deciphered to solve a riddle encrypted inside the correct information that had been gleaned.
In conclusion to this brief writing seminar, I believe that writers pursue non-fiction and that authors write fiction, but in the final analysis, good fiction must read like it’s non-fiction and good non-fiction must read like it’s fiction. The last place I want to see fiction or creativity is on the front page of a newspaper or the first chapter of a biography. The non-fiction events on the front page and in the biography must be so sensational and so extraordinary that they sound like fiction. And oh yes, life often does seem ambivalent!
To: The Hammonton Gazette
By: John Wiessner
January 5, 2002
Copyright: The Hammonton Gazette
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