Pre-COVID, a trip to New York was part of our fall routine, especially once we had a daughter in college in Connecticut, making the City a good place to meet up. COVID concerns have kept me from missing this trip in the past two years, but last year, I did miss it. I've been working on a Times Square jigsaw puzzle to get my from-a-distance fix, but I'm thinking it's time to plan another trip.
Let's call it "research."
Creating characters is my favorite part of writing fiction. I like dreaming them up from scratch, so to speak, but since real life and fiction are intricately connected through the vessel that is the writer, the elements blur and blend. Though I've never used an actual person in one of my books, some of my characters definitely have traits in common with people I know. And sometimes, it's the other way around.
Last weekend, for example, I met Nurse Loretta from my soon-to-be-released novel, Chasing a Second Chance. She was disguised as a clerk at Macy's in New York, but I recognized her as soon as she spoke. Of course the fact that she was coming to my rescue (as Nurse Loretta does for Angel) probably colored my perspective, as did the fact that she was unfailingly kind to me, while refusing to suffer fools (other customers -- you had to be there) gladly.
That got me thinking about other characters I met over the course of the weekend. Here are a few of them -- along with one it's probably good I didn't meet.
The down-on-his-luck sweet talker. We met this man between 11pm and midnight while waiting for our connecting train at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. Quick to share his [prior] success and his sad story of the day, he was probably not who he said he was, but the desperation of his situation was most likely real. Though he appeared to appreciate the $7 we gave him "for a train ticket," his eyes lit up at the food I offered. Scammed? Probably. But in the end, we were safe, and I hope he was as well. He left me wondering how he'd gotten from the success he professed as present truth to the alcohol-infused fast talker standing in front of me.
The Broadway "show sellers" at TKTS. These young people made a long line at TKTS seem to go faster (we even got to see a snippet of a number from Chicago). Most had the same opening line ("What show are you hoping to see?"), but they were full of energy and enthusiasm, along with a bit of trivia and insight. It was like getting an insider's view from a friend who'd seen everything, and it was fun talking to them. When I did a little research after the fact, I wasn't surprised to find that they're "highly trained working theatre professionals." They definitely had the energy necessary to bring a character to life on stage.
The jerk on the train. The train was "sold out" (more likely overbooked) on the way home, and we got split up. We figured we'd find new seats when people got off in Philly, but more people got on than off. My husband did find us seats with a bit more leg room, and while he retrieved our luggage from the overhead compartment and waited patiently to come back against the traffic of those seeking seats, my carry-on held his seat and I had to refuse many travelers. I felt bad about this in every case except one -- the 20-something guy who walked by (without asking if the seat was taken) loudly saying, "Yeah, that's right. Keep that seat for your bags." As it turned out, I didn't need to respond. Someone sitting nearby who'd heard me explain that the seat was taken called out to him, "Someone's sitting there!" followed by a sound that echoed my own frustration. The jerk on the train was a stock character. The woman who came to my defense is the one I want to write about.
Though I didn't meet the rude coffee drinker who spilled a substantial portion of his/her latte on the bench in the shoe department at Macy's, I did have a few choice words for him/her. While it's true that I should have looked before I sat, I didn't expect half a latte to be on the bench...or to soak through my pants, turning my solo shopping trip at Macy's Herald Square into a quest for dry clothing. This character may very well show up in a book, because I do, indeed, have a few things to say to her. And yes, she's already morphed into a female character because the bench was, after all, in the women's shoe department.
But without her less-than-desirable tendency to spill and run, unwelcome though it was, I wouldn't have met Nurse Loretta.
And, unlike the latte and the jerk on the train, she was a welcome surprise.