“Yeah, I know what your English Professor tried to tell you. But if your English Professor could make a living writing fiction, they would have been doing it.” ― Dean Wesley Smith
Where do you get your ideas from? All writers of fiction, from Jane Austen, Herman Melville, Jules Verne, Edith Wharton, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Harris, and Stephen King, have been asked this question since time immemorial. Even I, a relatively unknown blogger, movie reviewer, and storyteller, have heard it on the rare occasion that someone reads or watches something I wrote.
The story that I am most often asked about is Reunion, a nostalgic coming-of-age story of a thirtysomething-year-old man who must deal with his feelings of regret and loss after the tragic death of a high school classmate. Here are a few of the more frequent questions:
It is June 1983.
Jim Garraty is a senior at South Miami Senior High. He’s a staff writer for the school paper, a college-bound scholar who plans to become a historian and author of books on military history. He’s well-liked by his peers and teachers, and his future looks bright.
But as commencement draws near for the Class of 1983, Jim must deal with unfinished business. The girl he loves from afar is also graduating, and rumor has it that she is going away for the summer before starting college in the fall. Worse still, Marty doesn’t know how deeply Jim’s feelings for her are – unless he tells her. But when an opportunity arises on the last day of classes at South Miami High, Jim hesitates…and the window of opportunity closes.
Now, 15 years later, James Garraty is an up-and-coming history professor whose literary career is on the rise. Respected by his fellow faculty professors and recipient of popular and critical acclaim, Jim seems to have it all.
Except for one thing. True love.
Q.: How much of Reunion: A Story did you base on real life events at South Miami High?
A.: Well, the story is mostly confined in time and space to roughly one-third of a single day (June 14, 1983, which was the last day of the 1982-1983 school year) and one location (South Miami High). When I wrote it, I decided to keep the story tight and focused on the protagonist and his dramatic need. So, I didn’t describe, for instance, Jim Garraty’s last day as a high school student from Home Room/final exam to the last bell of the school day. That would have resulted in at least a novella, and in 1998, I just didn’t have the writing chops to tackle a project of that scope.
That having been said, aside from the various conversations between the story’s troika of main characters, quite a few of the anecdotes about that day and those mentioned in Jim’s flashbacks to past events are based on real events, including:
- The retirement of Mr. Rhea Farthing, one of South Miami Senior High’s assistant principals, at the end of the school year. As mentioned in Reunion, this noteworthy event was front page news in the June issue of The Serpent’s Tale, the school’s student paper. (As the outgoing Entertainment Editor, I was there when my fellow editors were trying to come up with headlines for that story. At one point, one of my fellow seniors suggested Lights go out at SMSH as Farthing announces his retirement, a waggish reference to the assistant principal’s nicknames of “Light Bulb”/”Bombillo.” Fortunately, decorum and cooler heads prevailed, and we went with something less cheeky…)
- The events that led to the cancellation of the Spring Concert, which had been originally scheduled for May 1983. Though I changed the name of South Miami High’s chorus teacher, Joan Owen, who left SMSH to take another choral directing job outside the public school system, and the substitute teacher who replaced her, Jim’s flashback is as accurate as my fallible memory allowed.
- The exodus of students from campus after the last exams were administered, the “clearing out of the lockers” mise en scene, and the different reactions to “end of the school year” were also faithfully recreated, especially in the story’s pivotal dream sequence. The details in that section of the story are particularly vivid because I set them to paper just three short years after my graduation from SMSH.
Since Jim’s experiences were drawn from my memories of that day, most of the little slice-of-life details are described as accurately as I could manage. I’m sure that I got some things wrong; the three-year gap between the Class of 1983’s commencement and the first iteration of Reunion blurred once-sharp memories enough to make me forget the revised final exam schedule; the even longer span between 1986 and the story’s publication in the summer of 2018 makes it even harder to gauge the historical accuracy of my tale.
Since today is Sunday, I will be taking the rest of the afternoon off to…well, rest. I think I’ll just vegetate in front of a TV set or read from my newly acquired The Odyssey of Star Wars: An Epic Poem. I need to get away from my desk at least for a while, so yep. That’s what I’m going to do.