This post by Sherry
Whenever someone asks how I come up with story ideas, I smile, because I know an explanation would take more than a thirty-second answer. You see, writing is all about counting out a journey of thoughts and memories lived, and then brutally pulling them apart in an effort to define the “who” of “you.” Several books I read as a teenager made me question everything I believed to be real and truthful.
I was only seventeen when I first read Truman Capote’s bestseller, In Cold Blood. My curiosity: How did the author of Breakfast at Tiffany’s possibly write such a bone-chilling book about the 1959 murder of an ordinary farm family in the state of Kansas? Did you know that Truman wanted Marilyn Monroe to play role of Holly Golightly? Hard to imagine.
In 1963, an entire nation agonized over Zapruder’s 8 mm color Kodachrome film footage of the assassination of President Kennedy. Then, two days later, before a grieving television audience, an obscure Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald, leaving behind a trail of unanswered questions and conspiracy theories that, fifty years later, still capture our imaginations around November 22nd. The atrocities during the civil rights movement and murder of Martin Luther King shattered a dream. In 1969 the murder of Robert F. Kennedy seemed to be that one final kick in the gut that left us stunned and morally spent. We were a generation raised on Sunday nights of Walt Disney, mixed in with the escalation of the war in Vietnam, the draft, peace marches, and that social and political upheaval played out on our television screens. We were the first media generation.
Teenagers in the sixties tuned into shows like Leave It To Beaver, Father Knows Best, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason and Saturday morning cartoons, while commercials sold us on the idea that smoking was cool and General Electric appliances would change our lives. On a darker plane, we lived through Civil rights, political scandals, and equal rights for women, bringing us to the sad truth that men in power are adept at ignoring the truth when truth becomes an issue so inconveniently muddled.
At the age of seventeen, In Cold Blood rocked my secure world because I identified with the Clutter family in that I’d grown up on a farm where we seldom locked our doors at night. I could not grasp the possibility that strangers might invade our house and snuff out the lives of my family. After all, something as horrible as this only happened on television or in the movies, and television violence was censored and movie stars had moral clauses in studio contracts. Nightly news programs on television brought into our homes the chaos and hatred going on in the world. But even then, Walter Cronkite calmed our fears with his fatherly demeanor in a world that seemed to be rocking off its axis. The younger generation in the sixties began to see American history as a series of scabs to be picked at and pulled off one by one to expose the true ugliness of our past and uncertain future.
As for Truman Capote, I remember him as being that arrogant little guy with the funny voice who appeared on seventies talk shows like Merv Griffin. I was not impressed with him. He seemed full of himself, a narcissist, attention-starved, and gossip monger who used his sharp tongue and quick wit to insult even his own friends. Somehow, he got away with it. Perhaps behind that well-guarded façade, Truman was nothing more than a scared boy, who, as a man, abused drugs and drank like a fish. Truman was, like the turbulent sixties, an American tragedy.
So, going back to the original question: How do I come up with ideas for stories? The short answer is I love writing about love, hope, friendship and forgiveness. Sentimental? Definitely YES. I yearn to go back and retrieve that slim thread of innocence I felt as a child. Most of all, I want to believe that people are basically good in their hearts and want to do the right thing when the chips are down.
Note: If interested, see the movie, Capote, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman (RIP).
Sherry Hartzler is the author of Three Moons Over Sedona, Island Passage and Chasing Joe, all available on Amazon.com