Inspiration—it comes from everywhere for an author. To be a good writer, you need to be a good observer. You need to be aware and take (mental) note of the things you see, hear, and experience. The details must sound authentic, and to do that, you've got to be paying attention.
I believe thinking like an artist is a universal trait.
I was once driving with a photographer. The view before us was beautiful. We were both silent as we drove, and I was striving to find words to explain the beauty before me.
A moment later, the photographer said, "How would I capture that light?"
The memory tickles me. We both saw the same thing, and we were both trying to figure out how we would handle it in our respective art forms.
One of the scenes in my second novel, Out of Her Hands, was taken just about verbatim from an encounter I had while picking up take-out for dinner for my family. The owner of the store who sold the most delicious Philly cheesesteaks in Denver was quite a character. His store was even given the "Best Take-Out Restaurant Inside a Gas Station" award. Yes, the restaurant was inside the gas station building.
After I'd picked up my order, I sat in my car and wrote down as many details of the conversation as I could recall.
Here's the scene:
The only negative to Yeah Philly! is the owner, not that JR isn’t a lovely gentleman. You could say he’s just a little too enthusiastic about his hoagies. The first time I went there, he forced me to read an essay about the proper way to build a sandwich. I’ve since discovered he makes every new customer read his sandwich manifesto. I can appreciate a quirky person, but JR raises quirkiness to an art form.
A few weeks ago, I phoned in my order as I was leaving work, expecting to run in, pay for my food, and leave. Unfortunately, that’s not the way JR does business. I arrived to find that he hadn’t started cooking my french fries. “I will cook no fries before their time,” he told me.
So tonight my order didn’t include fries. Two cheesesteaks, a meatball hoagie, and an Italian hoagie. Nice and straightforward. There are no customers ahead of me when I stroll into the shop. “Hi. Order for Linda, please.”
JR nods as he works over his grill. “Linda, Linda, bo-binda, banana-fana fo-finda, fee-fi-mo-minda. Linda!”
Oh, please. Don’t tell me he’s going to sing. I smile, hoping he’ll get on the ball and deliver my sandwiches.
“Now, you ordered a meatball hoagie?”
“Okay.” He turns from the grill, grabs a bun, and slices it down the middle.
What? “Is my order ready?”
JR shifts his Phillies baseball cap on his head. “Just about. The meatball hoagie is a very delicate sandwich. You can’t make it in advance.”
“You know, that’s okay with me. I’d rather have my sandwich a little soggy and be on my way.”
JR looks at me as if I asked him for a veggie hoagie with creamy coconut saffron sauce—a request which I’m sure would give him a heart attack. “What? Are you kidding me? I learned my craft from the best, and they’re all up there watching me now.” He points toward the ceiling, and I half expect to see the clouds part and the ghosts of hoagie chefs past scowling down at me. He narrows his eyes. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to make a hoagie, and I always do it the right way.”
Oh no. Now I’ve done it.
He gestures with his spatula. “Ah, like brown mustard on an Italian hoagie—that’s just not right. A hoagie is supposed to be a symphony of flavor, not a symphony of flavors. There’s no gestalt in a hoagie with brown mustard.”
Did he really say that?
He assembles my meatball hoagie while he rants, and I hold out my credit card to pay for my order. But does he take it? No. He continues on and on about the shops he’s worked in on the Jersey shore and how people on the boardwalk would never consider telling a hoagie chef how to build a sandwich. “This ain’t Subway, you know.”
I wave my card in front of him.
“And earlier, a chick came in and asked me to hold the tomato on her hoagie. Can you believe that?”
I move the card closer to him. “Uh, no.”
JR finally takes my card and runs it. While I’m signing the slip, he grabs a marker and draws a line down the top of each sandwich wrapper and puts them in a bag. “Remember, line up. We don’t want the juices to run the wrong way.” He hands me the bag. “Hold it like a baby.”
I remember thinking his last line, "Hold it like a baby," was an absolute gift. Ahh, people. They're so interesting, arent' they?
Readers: keep reading!
Writers: keep writing?