I’m a big nerd. What, you’re not shocked? I suppose I should have expected that, since you’ve been reading about how many television shows, books, and movies have made their way into my heart over the years. Yes, I spent many hours on Saturday and Sunday afternoons glued to the 12” black and white snow-filled television screen in our family basement, trying to watch Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea or Land of the Giants on our local UHF station. Reception was spotty, with grainy images and sound that went in and out, so, years later, when I discovered those shows on cable (Cable! The gods are truly kind to have given us this holy gift!) I was amazed to see that the actors’ skin had cleared up and they no longer spoke in those raspy, nearly indecipherable voices.
Yep. Big ole nerd. Still watching television. Drooling over quirky heroes like Jake 2.0 and Ianto Jones. Lt. Starbuck (original recipe only, please). Tony DiNozzo.
Big fan of NCIS. Or, I should say, the Golden Years of NCIS. Back when the team was teamy and Tony was a protector/damn good investigator, if a little off-color and funny. When Gibbs was brilliant but not all-knowing. When Ziva was Kate. And when Tim was a little green, a little innocent, and not yet smug and superior. When they all didn’t deserve to go to jail for the crimes they’ve committed because, apparently, they are all above the law.
But I digress…
Remember when Tim McGee became Thom E. Gemcity and wrote mysteries based not at all loosely on his fellow NCIS teammates? Tony became Tommy. Ziva became Lisa. LJ Gibbs became JL Tibbs? And, best of all, Jimmy Palmer became Pimmy Jalmer?
Tim got no end of criticism from his teammates for putting them into his books. Gibbs seethed. Tony mocked. Ziva threatened violence. And even mild-mannered Pimmy – I mean, Jimmy – complained. Having a deranged criminal actually killing people and stalking poor scientist Amy Sutton because of his writing didn’t help much, I suppose.
But here’s the funny part that only fellow writers really get – it’s all true.
You’re in my book.
If I know you, if I’ve seen you at the Chick-Fil-A or the Starbucks while I’m writing, if I’ve followed your car in traffic and noticed your odd collection of bumper stickers, if the three different shades of purple scrunchies in your hair have caught my eye, or the way your little boy has suddenly become fascinated with the hand sanitizer at the McDonald’s Playland has registered on my peripheral vision – you’re in there.
Hopefully, I’ll be able to disguise your identity so well that you won’t recognize yourself. Better than Tim McGee did, that’s for sure. I’ll probably take a few of your characteristics and combine them with my sister’s husband’s brother’s hobby and my childhood friend’s last name. Or that trip to the lake where we overturned the canoe and you were wearing a parka so that cute boy had to jump in and save you will be mixed up with the way my cousin only ever ate ham salad and pickles when we went to the cafeteria. Even for breakfast.
Or, maybe you won’t recognize yourself at all because you don’t see yourself – or remember – the way I do.
But, the fact remains, writers are watching you. We are inspired by you. We don’t just take television characters and turn them loose in our imaginations; we make up stories about real people, too. We want to know your story, and, since it would be extremely intrusive (not to mention creepy) to ask, we’ll make it up. It’s just how our brains work. That 65-year-old woman standing right there wearing jeans and sneakers, a bright red coat and sunglasses, talking about the Redskins going to the Superbowl – I’ve got a complete backstory percolating about her as I write this blog.
We’re making note of how the pregnant woman with a one-year-old on one hip walks, how the soldiers in BDUs at the fast-food counter stand, how the retired man sits unselfconsciously and stirs his coffee and as he gazes into the not-too-distant future. How differently the teenaged and many-years-married couples show affection.
Life. Personalities. History. They are truly fascinating. So why wouldn’t I people my fiction with little chunks of reality?
If – when – my book gets published, don’t wonder if you’re going to find yourself in the pages. Just be confident that you will. Alongside a handsome, bespectacled linguist and a suited Welshman and an Italian gigolo furniture-mover, you might find a math teacher, or a funny grey-haired Texas lady, or a teenager gunned down by rival drug-dealers. I’ve known you all.
Thanks for the inspiration.