“Of course,” I say whenever asked if my fictional writings are based in real life. Sometimes, people are curious to know some examples of the factual being fictionalized. Here are some actual scenarios from my life or others’ recently added to my file that I may well incorporate into some story someday.
Watching the evening news, I was compelled to pull over a kitchen chair and get my out-of-date globe from the top of my entertainment cabinet and find Tunisia. I dusted the globe off and used it throughout the hour. So—Rose or some other character might have a similar experience sometime.
Family party – For a joke, sister 1 in the living room texts a message to sister 2 in the dining room, “I know where you live and I’m going to kill you tonight.” Sister 2 becomes distraught, is ready to call 911. Sister 1 tells the truth. Sister 2 is not amused. A yelling match escalates into a fist fight.
My seven sisters and I met for a weekend at a hotel. We got acquainted with the desk clerks, and managers and the hotel’s restaurant manager, Bob. We were enjoying dinner in the restaurant on Saturday night and Bob presented us with a complimentary bottle of fine wine, elegantly pouring it for us. Omigosh, I am just now reminded about Friday night at that sistahfest. Traveling from different places, we had started arriving around 3pm and the last three got in around midnight. We were settled into the lobby to greet each other and here came the manager with champagne, complete with floating strawberries! As he leaned over the coffee table and began to serve, the tray tipped and the flutes crashed and the champagne spilled all over us. Friday night is way more interesting than Saturday, isn’t it?
A woman sitting in worship leaned over to her neighbor in the pew and whispered, “I think I forgot to turn the stove off.” She left and came back in about 15 minutes. (But in fiction, of course, this could turn out differently!)
In the post office parking lot during the holidaze, a woman inadvertently cut off the driver behind her as she swung into a parking place. He stopped his pickup truck behind her, waited until he had her attention through the rearview mirror, applauded, flipped her off, and drove on. They approached the entrance together, and she hastened to apologize. He was in no mood to accept the apology and when she urged him to go ahead of her in the line, he said, with a flourish, “Oh, no. I am a Southern gentleman.”
Late on a Sunday afternoon, traveling from Boston to Columbia SC, I pulled off the interstate at Blacksburg to get gas. Seeing signs to Virginia Tech, I decided to stop by the campus. This was just a few weeks after the tragic shootings and the day after commencement. There were only a few people around, but all the immediate, temporary memorials were still in place. I detailed the quiet somberness and many details of mementoes and messages in my journal.
Sometimes nothing more than a one-liner or overheard snippet or news item is sublimely useable or leads to an idea:
a child named Octavia because she was the eighth child
from an obituary—the person passed away “…from head trauma sustained in an accident on his beloved Harley Davidson.”
“I’m disgusted with being old.”
“Have you googled those talking cats yet?”
“Humans have been around for thousands of years…”
“Pollen is evidence of the romance of pine trees…”
“His wife got married to a black lady.”
“Sometimes the juice ain’t worth the squeeze.” Has everybody but me already heard this?
“She was born with crooked legs and put up for adoption.”
“I feel like a bird left without a branch to land on.” A Haitian talking about the earthquake and cholera outbreak
doctor to a patient needing to lose weight: “If it tastes good, spit it out.”
I love receiving anecdotes and sayings from readers and save them in case the right moment comes to fit them in. It’s quite true that “You’re never safe around a writer,” in the sense that all the turnings of the world are always potential material. But please relax around me. You are perfectly safe because I—and most writers, I believe—change or veil reality to try and ensure that no one ever feels exploited or suffers in any way when their lives become material.