The question I am asked by readers most frequently is how much of my books come from events in my life.
The simple answer is: a whole bunch.
I’m queried further to put a percentage on it and I have come up with 90% for PAPERBOY and 50% for COPYBOY. I have no idea if those percentages are valid.
Occasionally, I’m asked if a specific event happened and a curious look comes over my face. Did it? Sometimes it’s not an easy question to answer.
Other events, however, come right off the front page, as we old newspapermen are wont to say.
A good example came to mind the other day when a colleague from the old Memphis Press-Scimitar shared a photo I had never seen before. The memories came flooding back.
From the fourth chapter of COPYBOY:
“Above the copydesk, the ceiling was full of pennies stuck in the acoustic tiles. Hundreds of pennies. The custom among the copy editors was to fling a penny at the twenty-foot ceiling anytime the copydesk chief handed out an “atta-boy” for a headline he judged to be especially well written. You got only one shot at making the penny stick in the ceiling, a sign of good luck.”
In the photo from 1978 accompanying this post (credit: Jack Gurner), Tom Pappas, an assistant city editor, cleans out coins from the ceiling at the old Memphis Publishing Company building on our last day before moving to a new facility. As the book explains, the old building had been a Ford manufacturing plant, and each time the giant presses would crank up on the bottom floors of the building, coins would rain down from the ceiling on the fifth floor where The Press-Scimitar newsroom was located.
Even in this event, there is fiction blended with fact. As I recall, most of the coins were quarters because it was hard to get anything else to stick. And the practice was enjoyed by the entire newsroom, not just the copydesk.
The passage goes on to say that members of the copydesk would sing “Pennies From Heaven” when the coins came raining down. Is that fact or fiction? I honestly don’t know.
Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I can hear Joe Guess singing “Pennies From Heaven,” but that’s all I know – for a fact.
In my first book, PAPERBOY, the one fictional character in the book, Mr. Spiro, says:
“If you are asking if the story of Jason and the Argonauts is fiction or nonfiction, I will answer that there is no difference between the two in the world I inhabit.”
The paperboy responds:
But fiction is a story and nonfiction is the truth.
“And I reply that you are referring merely to the rule of law. I contend that one is likely to find more truth in fiction. A good painting after all is more truthful than a photograph. Remember that, Young Messenger, for all your days.”