Sunday, December 1, 2013

Where do you get your ideas?

I was washing an apple for a midmorning snack, when peeling off the little sticker on it triggered a memory and a blog/column idea.
About 20 years ago I worked with Ted, a newspaper reporter who was absolutely convinced these stickers are edible. He proved it by his frequent consumption of them. As well, the coffee mug he refused to ever wash grew a suspicious lump at its bottom. It could have been crystallized coffee, but like all the other members of the newsroom staff, I suspected it was much worse – probably some type of toxin-producing fungus.
A few years after I had moved on to another newspaper, Ted died of cancer although he was not old – only in his late 40s or early 50s. Hearing about his death, I was saddened but, knowing his story, not surprised.
Since those days, I can never eat an apple without thinking of Ted. 
His questionable dietary habits, my memory trigger, weren't his only distinguishing characteristic.
Ted openly admitted that alcoholism had taken him to the skids of a major city before he got sober and launched his career. He'd married a singer and helped her raise her children from a previous marriage. Then, after she divorced him, Ted lived in a rooming house and saved money. He first grew fat and then lost the weight, eating pepper steal prepared in his microwave every day for at least a year.
Sounds like a real mess, doesn't he?
Actually, Ted was a likeable, hard-working and generous colleague, someone I enjoy remembering, an everyday hero whose resilience and determination were admirable.
He's also a good illustration of the way I get ideas for stories. I think of people I have known and the things they would believe and do.
We all meet interesting people, but writers remember them and use them. Charles Dickens is a good example. His father's imprisonment for indebtedness pushed the young Dickens out of school and into the workforce where he pasted labels on shoe-blacking jars at a factory and met many impoverished people. As well as inspiring him to a lifetime of working for reform of working conditions, this experience was essential to his writing career. Dickens' near-photographic memory and writing talent allowed him to transform grim experience, creating stories with remarkable characters, some heroes, some tragic victims, and some villains.
In three decades of gypsy journalism, I met many people, many of whom I have animated or will animate in stories. Expect to see a character resembling Ted some day.

Ann Harvey


Nikki said...

I love your description of Ted, Ann, and your memory trigger of him. All of us writers use people and events we experience in our work; it's how we make our fiction seem real. I can't wait to meet Ted in one of your stories.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Ted is a winner and so is your blog.

Anonymous said...

Interesting personal story Ann.

Michael Davis (
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)