People often ask writers where they get the ideas for their stories. For me, the simple answer is “From real life.” Both of my published YA novels and the novel I’m currently working on are fictional amalgams of many events in my life, people I’ve met, and news items I’ve read or watched. As things pique my curiosity, they get stored in my brain alongside other things that piqued my curiosity in the past, and eventually I’ve got a mental mash-up that spills out as fiction.
One of the key inspirations for my novel HONK IF YOU HATE ME was the incredible story of Baby Jessica, an 18-month-old girl who fell into an 8-inch-wide well casing and was trapped there for 58 hours until rescuers finally got her out. I and millions of other Americans were transfixed by the ordeal and cheered when Jessica was saved. Over the next few years, those of us who cared about this baby got periodic updates about her in popular “Where Are They Now?”-type news segments. My interest soon shifted to people’s on-going interest in this girl. The media would show up on her doorstep every few years to see what was up, and I always thought, “How strange it must be to be famous for something you don’t even remember doing…” This formed the core concept of HONK, wherein my lead character is filmed for a “Where Are They Now?” segment on the ten-year anniversary of a terrible event in her life.
Today Baby Jessica turns 25 years old, and the media is once again on her doorstep. Their angle this time? Jessica turns of age today to access her $800,000 trust fund, which was set up by kind donors when she captured their hearts back in 1987. And now I find myself pondering all over again the surreal quality such fame must have. Hmm… I think there’s another idea in there, if I just let it percolate long enough with the other items now simmering in my head. No, I’m not suggesting that my mulling would lead to a sequel to HONK, but I do know that I’m not done with the topic of unexpected fame striking normal people. Fame…. Yeah, there’s definitely another story there.
Lynn Kelley says
Oh my, I remember Baby Jessica very well. One of my daughters is the same age, so at the time, I imagined what if that was my baby that fell down that well? I’ve heard bits and pieces over the years about her. Last thing I heard was that her parents divorced. They were so darn young at the time of the incident. I don’t think the fame helped them much.
I think it’s so cool that you used the angle of fame in a child too young to remember and how it affects them the rest of their life for the seedlings of your novel. I’ll have to read HONK. I love YA.