410. An Honest Novel

I wrote an honest story. Everything that happened, could have happened in my real world. Many of these things were close analogs to things that did happen.

That is what I said in Symphony 2 and I stand by it, but I also have to explain it.

I wrote Symphony in 1988 and 1989, about a middle school much like the one in which I taught. That means it was small, underfunded, understaffed and blessed or cursed (you decide) with a racial mix of about half Hispanic and half Anglo. Keirnan School in my fictional world is on Keirnan Road, north of Modesto, California, in a mixed agricultural and industrial area.

Kiernan Road is real. Every road and most structures in my fictional world existed in the real world as well, although much has changed since then. The place where my fictional school exists was open agricultural land in 1988. On Kiernan Road, west of my fictional school, was and is a school of a different name which is part of the Modesto School District. My fictional school is not that school. Mine exists in a tiny two-school district, much as the school where I taught. That means severely restricted resources, which will become apparent as the story progresses.

The opening sequence of chapters The Ides of March and May 1988 may seem unbelievable to any modern teachers who reads this, or to any retired teachers who were teaching in the same era in large school districts. Yes, the police should have been involved, but in those days a powerful board member like Alice’s father could easily sway his board. Yes, Child Protective Services should have been notified and they should have made determinations. Again, this was a questionable judgement call. Clearly, similar to calls are still being made my some universities today.

If things had gone as they should have, Neil would have escaped censure and there would have been no novel. However, things often don’t go as they should, in fiction and in the real world.

Under these circumstances, Neil could not have been hired for a year by any large district, even in 1988. But a small district, with minimal pay, constantly struggling to hold on to its teachers, is in a very different place. It could easily have happened in such a real district, as it did in the novel. I have seen far more questionable hires go through.

Symphony faces a conundrum. Every movie or TV show about teaching is wildly inaccurate in dozens of ways. Since that is what readers regularly see, Symphony, which looks very different, seems questionable precisely because it is accurate.

I ran every situation in Symphony through this truth test: Could that incident have happened in the school where I worked? If the answer was no, I changed the story.

Anything that seems strange to you — sorry, I’ve seen weirder.


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