When I was in elementary school the idea of of “non-fiction” writing really confused me. I got that fiction consisted of “stories that people just made up.” What seemed strange is that the librarian would refer to stuff that was supposed to be true as “non-fiction.” This seemed, to me, as odd as someone getting on the witness stand and promising to make statments that are “not-lies.”
It took a long time for me to understand this whole thing but when I did it really clicked for me. Good “non-fiction” writing is really fiction writing but with 50 percent more truth. The thing is that good non-fiction also has obligation to tell a story, have a plot, to have conflict and reolution. Without these elements, we would be reading (and writing) non-fiction works that are the equivalent of a telephone book.
So, the first section of my new book, “The Second Crucible” takes care to introduce four characters whose lives and experience will be both “fictional” and evocative of the widely varied experience and outlook of the Post War Generation. Here is a sample…
The wheels of Continental flight 107 touched down at Newark’s Liberty International airport, on schedule, at 5:53 a.m. In the second-row window seat, 53-year-old Linda Rutter startled awake. She leaned forward, returned her seat to the upright position, and rubbed the stiffness out of her neck. There was nothing she could do about the dull ache that throbbed behind her eyes. She’d never slept well on airplanes.
After a hard week in LA, she was coming home. Linda squinted into the early morning light. Dawn lit the east with a pale pink glow, but it didn’t matter. She felt like shit.
The new VP was a bastard. Harvard MBA, big mouth, he was just passing through and everybody knew it. He’d take a pound of flesh from his “team” and move on. The flight attendant’s droning instructions did not cease until they reached the gate. Up the ramp. Down to baggage claim. She stared at the carousel’s parade of black roller bags. Hers had a lime-green tag.
She’d majored in accounting in college and joined the firm in her early 30s, a lifetime ago. Except for the year the twins were born, she’d been on the job ever since. The company retained an impressive roster of midsize firms as clients; most of the business had been in the Metro New York area until one— no— two CEOs ago. That one had been big into the “Pacific Rim” and Linda had been on the redeye two or three times a month ever since.
She found her car and drove home.
The house was empty. The girls were at school; Ed would be at work until seven, at least.
She stood in the shower and let its hot rain wash the grime of travel from her body. It felt good to close her eyes. She was tired but knew that it would be a mistake to sleep. There was work to do. She wrapped her hair in a towel and palmed an opening in the misted mirror. Her face leapt into view and surprised her. Old. She pushed the word away and remembered the L’Oreal ad she’d seen on the plane. “Worried about wrinkles? We’ll help you fight back.”
She would fight.
The other three character that I currently envision are…
An African-American woman, who grew up in the deep South and now lives in LA and works as a medical social worker. She is active in her church, unmarried and she is growing tired of the rat-race and looking for a change in her life.
A male farmer, the son of farmers who spent his whole life on running a dairy in Upstate New York. His children are grown. They moved away and his wife left him a few years ago. His sad but stoic and often wonders what happened and how so many years got behind him.
A well-to-do man who was a Hippie in his youth but then turned toward business and found tht he was good at it. He started with a job in a nursing home and wound up running it and then buying it. He built a chain of nursing homes and feels that “they give good care.” Still, he frets that he has “sold out.” He has all of the customary toys and posessions, is happily married and his grown children are doing well but, still, he feels that something is missing.