Thursday, September 2, 2010
And the Golden Heart Goes to...
I love newspapers. I began reading Ann Landers’ column in the long-defunct Newark (N.J.) Evening News before I understood some of the problems her readers described. The New York Daily News’ headlines hooked me early, and the New York Times showed me newspapers didn’t need comics to pull in readers. I’d turn the pages of its magazine section and picture myself in the glossy ads. Human-interest stories were and still are my favorite read.
These days, I live in Texas, where a subscription to the daily New York Times qualifies as a luxury item, but subscribe I do. In this mean economy, newspapers have cut the number and depth of the feature stories they run, but the Times’ budget still allows for longer, thoughtful pieces.
The heroine of A PLACE AT THE TABLE, my Golden Heart-winning manuscript, was inspired by a Times series on people in unusual medical/hospital jobs. One of the people featured was a social worker/hospital-discharge planner. As I read her story, I remember wondering what kind of person writes detailed instructions about a to-be-discharged patient’s on-going therapy, prescriptions, and care? What kind of person chooses to run interference between patients and insurers and between patients and their frightened or exasperated loved ones? As I was reading fact, I spun fiction and decided, with apologies to the real-life planner in the article, that such a person had control issues. I even decided such a person was the adult child of an alcoholic and had been the type of kid to keep track of her mom’s AA meetings. Later in the article, when the real-life planner alluded to a relative with an addictive personality, I wasn’t surprised and felt free to go deeper into make-believe.
On September 1, the Times did an article about a candidate for public office who makes a point of hugging people to win their approval. His advisors refer to these hugs as “mind melds,” and a photo shows the candidate cheek-to-cheek with a supporter. By the time I finished reading, I pictured a boss who manipulates those who rely on her for a paycheck. I don’t think my fictional boss uses hugs, but her father might have. Or did he withhold them?
Newspaper stories jumpstart my imagination, and I’m detached enough from the events and people described to go where it takes me. A friend recently confided a secret, and my primitive brain screamed, I’m using that. But I can’t. My mind won’t travel to worst-case scenarios when a friend’s involved, and it refuses to see humor in her dilemma.
The Times’ Sunday wedding feature, “Vows,” is an auto-read for me and so is “The Boss” feature in Sunday’s business section. I read about athletes whose sports I don’t understand and devour travel articles about places I’ll never visit. It’s all fodder.
Pat O'Dea Rosen writes family stories that mix drama and humor--a blend that duplicates dinner conversations at her house. Between two long teaching stints, she spent a decade in the newspaper business, seven of them as a reporter. A newpaper editor once told her: "You know your problem? You think everybody's interesting." She doesn't consider that a flaw. Pat lives in Houston with her husband and two cats. Her grown children live nearby and keep mealtimes lively.