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Ripping (off) headlines

Every once in a while I find myself so enraged, befuddled, or even charmed (rarely) by the news cycle that I can think of little else.  This week, like most of you, I’m sure, I find myself filled with ongoing, white-hot, animal rage about Jerry Sandusky and the whole Penn State scandal.   Simultaneously, I’m incredulous (and not in a good way) that  someone who doesn’t seem to know what’s been happening with Libya lately is seriously running for president.  And then, just when I think I need anti-depressants to get through the newspaper, there’s Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, making the media rounds to promote their new book and seeming so courageous and true to each other.  Their story is a palate cleanser to chase away the taste of bile the other headlines leave behind.

As immersed in different ways as I’ve been with these events and personalities, I find myself wondering which would work in a fictional retelling.  Novelists, from Zola to Grisham have been ripping off ideas from the headlines from time immemorial, of course, but with the relentless coverage of happenings big and small to feed the great gaping maw the Internet has created, I think it’s gotten harder to take a major news story and turn it into a compelling, important novel.  Still, I wonder what Tom Perrotta would do with the Penn State tragedy, what Allegra Goodman could make of the Giffords/Kelly saga, and what merriment would result from Carl Hiaasen’s take on the Cain, Perry, and Bachman campaigns.

Perhaps it’s only fiction that can truly make sense of the horror and absurdity.  Sometimes, too, fiction is the only way to capture the complexity of love, passion, bravery in a way that doesn’t reduce these qualities to a Hallmark card.

What headlines would you rip off and turn into classic fiction?  And what authors would you pair what stories with?

7 Responses to Ripping (off) headlines

  1. Kendall says:

    I’m not sure about classic fiction in the manner of Zola or Grisham, but my latest YA ended up being influenced quite a bit by the Arab Spring and OccupyWallStreet. I didn’t start out trying to write a YA novel disguised as political commentary on dictatorship or class divides, but the more I wrote, the more I saw parallels between my plot and what’s happening now in the world.

  2. Andrea says:

    Not so much a headline (although it should have been), but a few months ago I heard somebody (can´t remember who it was, but probably a journalist) on the radio explain why politicians want to start wars. I´m not easily shocked, because I don´t trust politicians at all, but this man´s story was a real eye-opener and now I think even less of them. I won´t go into details here because I don´t want to start a discussion about politics, but after that radio interview I was filled with disgust about the world of politics. I just had to make a note of it in my notebook and somehow I´m going to use it in my current novel. For me, the fantasy genre is the perfect way to comment on and make sense of the real world.

  3. My WIP was sparked by a newspaper story that outraged me a couple of years back. When something similar happened a little closer to home, my outrage was reignited and I decided it was something worth exploring in a book.

  4. I think the trick to ripped-from-the-headlines fiction is adding your own take, or asking a what-if question to make it unique. Rather than try to recreate a situation in fiction exactly, think about the major themes, causes, etc., and apply them to your own world.

    I imagine the Arab Spring and Occupy movement will inspire a lot of novels. They’re good fodder for hero vs. establishment stories.

    If he were still alive, I would love to know what Kurt Vonnegut could do with the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had pretty powerful statements about war in SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE, and I’d be interested in his approach to these wars that many more people viewed as pointless and futile in comparison to World War II.

  5. anon says:

    I like to see Mark Twain’s satire on the Obama Administration. And how someone with no experience can become the President.

  6. mode homme says:

    Love the different views on who wears the dress better. I think neither is better, they are just different uses for different people. I love how skins and animal print are used this season in garments that are not over-bearingly sexy. It’s refreshing!

  7. Madaline says:

    I’m impressed, I must say. Rarely do I encounter a blog that’s both educative and interesting, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The issue is something too few men and women are speaking intelligently about. Now i’m very happy I came across this during my hunt for something relating to this.

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