Thursday, July 28, 2011


COKER CREEK, Tenn. - Neighbors said that for months the ramshackle mobile home littered with trash and beer cans had been the site of loud parties and drunken fights, most in front of two young boys who lived there with their mother and her boyfriend. When it was quiet, they said, the children often were left alone with no food, running water or electricity. Then, last week, the boyfriend was stabbed to death, and the 8-year-old confessed to killing him. Police said the boy told them Keith Podzebka, 41, had been hitting his mother. Authorities will decide whether to try the boy as a juvenile or an adult.

This tiny brief appeared in the Bangor Daily News’ “Nation” section one Sunday back in 2006. I remember reading it while eating cereal and reaching immediately for the scissors. Like many writers, I keep a file of news clips such as this one, always looking for items that catch my attention. Usually, these are stories about the human condition, about people teetering on the edge. These stories make me wonder about the state of humanity and wonder what led these individuals to this point and where they will go from here.

I gave the clip above to my students this week as an illustration that there are story ideas everywhere, and how nothing is off limits—a writer just needs to make the material her own. By that, I’m not talking about stealing a storyline. I’m talking about finding something that intrigues you about the story, taking that nugget, and running with it—using the material of real life to generate the material of your fiction. Consider my questions regarding the story above.

1) What does the mother say to the boy the next time she sees him? Is she angry? Grateful? A story from her POV would be fascinating.
2) Where was the brother when this occurred? What was his relationship with the boyfriend?
3) Who is pushing to have the boy tried as an adult? The D.A.? Does that person have a child? Wouldn’t it be interesting if s/he did and their son or daughter was in the young killer’s class?
4) Where is this family in ten years?

My creative writing workshop students are working on this. Try your own hand at it. And feel free to forward any fascinating news briefs my way (


Rick Blechta said...

Well, John, the reporter in me (not that I ever was) would want to know what's happened during the intervening 5 years. Any idea or do I have to look it up myself? ;)

On a sidebar: what idiot would even contemplate trying this kid as an adult? That is more shocking than the actual crime as far as I'm concerned!

You must be a really great teacher. Your students are so lucky.

Rick Blechta said...

(not that I ever was one) is the way that first line in my comment above should have read.

Rick Blechta said...

I couldn't resist. Here are two further articles on this sorry matter:


My question still remains (especially in light of the information contained in the first article): how could any sane adult (presumably the Monroe County DA) think for one moment that it was appropriate to charge this 8-year-old with murder? I certainly hope this clown was turfed from office at the first opportunity.

Even with this newer information, there is still a lot that could be used to develop a compelling story or novel.

Charlotte Hinger said...

John, absolutely story ideas are everywhere. Thursday I went on a killer hike with a group I'd previously thought of as sane. At the end, I thought about this as the setting for an attempt at the perfect murder. A greedy child, a parent in less than perfect health, etc. nothing so obvious as being pushed over a cliff. Of course this WILL give our friends the creeps. Knowing we have murder on the mind.

NL Gassert said...

Here is what I see. The mother never forgives her son. He killed her love, the man who was going to make it all better. Yeah, sure, the guy was beating her, but he also brought home food on occasion, which is more than the boy ever did. She takes the other brother and moves away. The other brother doesn’t forgive because he sees his mother suffering and grieving and totally spiraling out of control. When she eventually kills herself , he blames his brother. He becomes a cynical DA known to be tough on juvenile offenders.

Thanks. That was fun :-)