Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Stranger Than Fiction

By Mark W. Danielson

The truth is stranger than fiction, so the saying goes. As a fiction writer, it’s sometimes difficult competing with the daily news. Fortunately, authors can benefit from these odd events for they stimulate our brains and sometimes spill into our manuscripts. Here are a few of my favorite true events from days gone by as well as some recent oddities.

I doubt that anyone will forget the Nicole Simpson, Ron Goldman murders that led to OJ’s slow-speed freeway chase. While OJ’s Bronco never made it to Mexico, it did prove that his SUV could reach freeway speed, even with money and guns on board. OJ’s trial held the media’s attention for months, and although his lawyers won the criminal suit, they lost the Brown’s civil suit. Now, you’d think that a person who has had such a brush with the law might be scared straight, but not OJ. Nope, he just can’t stay out of trouble and now he’s behind bars. No one made these things up, but if they had, no one would buy it.

Certainly Michael Jackson’s plight wins an honorable mention in the peculiar category, but don’t blame him. People love putting celebrities on pedestals just so they can knock ’em down. I never knew Michael personally, so my only comment on his Peter Pan lifestyle is he was probably doing everything possible to capture the childhood he never had. Unfortunately, his attempts at sharing that with others was often misunderstood and misjudged. Love him or leave him, Michael was an enormous musical influence, but if I were to create a fictional character like him, my readers would say I went too far.

Of course, everyone knows about these two celebrities, so how about some of my local quirks? The first one occurred on a recent trip to the coffee shop. We ordered two foo-foo drinks at the drive-through; one decaf sugar-free caramel macchiato and one white chocolate mocha. When we arrived at the window, the coffee chef asked if we wanted whipped cream. Assuming she meant for the white chocolate mocha, I replied yes. The lady then handed me a lid piled with whipped cream, and then handed us our coffees. Now, does this belong in a story or what? I think so.

For the next, hand it to the cities of Thornton and Westminster, Colorado, to create a traffic nightmare over the 128th Street Bridge they share that crosses over I-25. First, they shut the bridge down for six months for renovation, then six months later shut it down to replace it. When it opened a year later, the new bridge was four lanes wide, but only had one lane leading into it on either side. Now, with economic stimulus money, Thornton is widening their side to two lanes in each direction, yet the Westminster side remains unchanged. If this makes any sense to anyone, please explain it to me. Certainly, this is another ingredient for a future novel.

Last, but not least is personal license plates. Some are clever, some require interpretation, and others you just have to wonder about. We recently saw one that read, “MOM2TED”. Now, the question remains whether Ted is Mom’s son or whether Mom passes a lot of gas. Either way, this plate needs clarification. Too bad we didn’t meet at the traffic light – I would have asked her.

I’m sure everyone has a favorite story of their own, and I’d love to hear them. Some great ideas come from the news. All you have to do is evaluate the situation and build on it. So while the truth may be stranger than fiction, nothing says we can’t stretch it.


Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

You're right, truth is definitely stranger than fiction. I can't think of the number of times I've read something in the paper and thought that my editors would never let me use it: too unbelievable.

Mystery Writing is Murder

Jean Henry Mead said...

We're having similar problems on 1-25 to your north, Mark. The stimulous money is creating havoc with a two lane bridge that's been evolving into four since last fall.

Everyone has been detouring around it for so long that I doubt they'll be using the bridge once it's finished. And if you sit and watch the construction process, you'll never use it.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Elizabeth, you should write some blogs for us to share some of your stories. We can always use guest blogs.

Jean, your comment reminds me of construction in India. It always amazes me how fine their craftsmanship was four centuries ago compared to how it is now. I suppose we can say the same about our own country, though. Buildings from the seventeen hundreds are still standing while we continue to tear down ones that are only forty years old. Seems like we need to turn the clock back.