The Write Way: Daily News, Daily Blues, Pick Out a Story Every Time You Choose

Okay, who remembers Tom Paxton?  Remember his song Daily News?  “Daily news, daily blues, pick up a copy every time you choose.  Seven little pennies in the newsboy’s hand. . .”  Seven little pennies?  Newsboy?  How old is this song, anyway?

Apparently it’s this old: “Civil rights leaders are a pain in the neck, can’t hold a candle to Chiang Kai-shek.”  Ask your children or grandchildren who Chiang Kai-shek was and gauge accordingly.  Or for a real eye-opener, ask them about civil rights.

Vintage or not, I find myself humming Daily News sometimes when I see an article or headline in the newspaper that sounds like an idea for a book.  While I have access to many newspapers online, my book ideas usually come from the Washington Post, which is delivered straight to my sidewalk.  For this purpose a newspaper in the hand is worth two on the iPad.  It’s the little articles, the ones you’d never notice online or that wouldn’t even make it there, that often have the best story ideas hidden inside.  Local crimes and gossip.  Obituaries.  Letters to the editor. Advice columns–always good for romances and family drama.

This summer my friend Casey Daniels aka Kylie Logan and I taught “So You’ve Always Wanted to Write a Novel” at Chautauqua Institution in western New York.  Casey thought it would be a fun icebreaker to give our students newspaper clippings and ask them to invent a story. I wondered what kind of stories our students would come up with from ordinary day-to-day stuff like want ads and lecture reviews.  But their story ideas were fabulous and inventive. I knew we had a roomful of winners.  They proved me right.

I was reminded of that exercise this week when I saw the following in our paper:  New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has acknowledged her paternal grandparents came to the U.S. illegally, amid national attention and protests over her ongoing efforts to bar illegal immigrants from getting driver’s licenses.

Wow, talk about the perfect beginning for a family saga.  Generations of a proud Mexican family brave hardship, poverty and illegal border crossings to give their children and grandchildren a better life and a chance to bar others, just like themselves, from doing the same.  No matter what you think about immigration issues, you must admit this has bestseller written all over it.

Or what about this oneF-16 pilot was ready to shoot down her father’s plane.  The article goes on to tell the story of a female fighter pilot (one of the first) who was sent up into the air over Washington on 9/11 with no weapons other than her plane itself, with orders to fly straight into a hijacked United Airline jet if it came into DC airspace.  The potential kamikaze’s father is a United Airlines pilot, and she knew he could have been in that cockpit.  The jet went down in Pennsylvania, thanks to the heroes on board, but it’s crystal clear that had it been necessary, Major Heather Penney would have been a hero, too. 

Can you imagine a better story to fuel a novel?

Wednesday of this week:

Md. man recognized suspect when fake beard slipped, prosecutors say.  Oh boy, oh boy! 

A motorcyclist who was pinned under a burning car expressed gratitude for the help of strangers who lifted the 4,000 pound vehicle to rescue him.  My eyes fill up reading that one. 

And this one’s a shocker:  In ordering the Cherokee Nation to restore voting rights and benefits to about 2,800 descendants of members’ former slaves. . .”  Former slaves?  Really?  I feel another family saga coming on.

There are a million great ideas in your daily newspaper.  If you want to write, start reading.  If you don’t want to write, start reading anyway.  We all have imaginations.  Exercise yours. You’ll be amazed at how much fun you’ll have.

If you come up with an idea from your favorite paper and would like to share it on this blog as a comment?   In one week will choose a commenter to receive a copy of my novel Whiskey Island, (chosen because it’s the direct result of a feature article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.)  All you have to do is tell us your story idea and where it came from.  Or just tell us about an article etc. that you saw and why you think something about it might be interesting in a book.  We’ll be waiting.


  1. Liz on September 16, 2011 at 10:09 am

    You must be able to listen to WTOP, the local D.C. news station.

    Knuckleheads in the News provides endless fodder, in relief to the politicians:

  2. Kay Myhrman-Toso on September 16, 2011 at 8:11 pm

    I also remember Tom Paxton AND read the print copy of the newspaper daily. Think that says something about my “demographic”! I happened on this brief blurb in the police log of our weekly suburban paper a while back (no, I’m NOT in the habit of reading this section on a regular basis!) “A Woodbury resident living on Powers Lake Circle reported June 21 that a new house under construction was built with windows facing her bedroom and bathroom. She believed the layout constituted an invasion of privacy. Police told the woman it is not a crime for people to look out the windows of their homes.” I can just imagine all the character quirks that might prompt a woman to call the police about windows! How might she take things into her own hands, after hearing that this wasn’t a police matter?

    • Emilie Richards on September 16, 2011 at 9:49 pm

      Oh, that’s SO good. Very novel worthy. I love it.

  3. Emilie Richards on September 17, 2011 at 9:50 am

    Liz, Just checked out your link. Those stories are priceless! The lobster in the shoplifter’s pants? A scene right out of Janet Evanovich. See what you’ve done? Now I’m hooked!

  4. Paula Petty on September 19, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    I think my favorite is an article in our local newspaper about the turkey hot line training workers to help cooks in a bind–so many ideas. I am making a list from just the article.

    • Emilie Richards on September 19, 2011 at 2:34 pm

      Wouldn’t that make a great character? Imagine the questions they’re asked. Imagine what it’s like working in the hot line room with other people?

  5. Marna on September 26, 2011 at 12:13 pm
    • Emilie Richards on September 26, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      I read this article this morning. You’re right, there’s lots of material there, isn’t there?

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