The young woman in “Sweeper’s Peepers” was an amalgam.
Yes, on my last work trip I saw someone with very dark hair and blue eyes; there was a Subway employee sweeping the floor while I ate; and there was a woman who somewhat comically heard me wrong when I mentioned her eyes.
Rather than write separately about all three, I decided to combine them into one person. I hear “real” writers do this all the time, which is one way they are able to put the disclaimer in their books saying, “characters depicted in this work of fiction… not real people… blah blah blah.”
On the plane ride into the customer site (or the nearest airport, anyway), I saw a little girl, maybe about four or five years old, sitting directly across the aisle from me. A scruffy man I guessed to be her grandfather sat next to her. Her hair was very dark — almost black, yet she had pale skin along with bright blue eyes that nearly glowed.
At the Subway, which was the only fast food establishment in the customer’s town or within 15 miles of it, I saw a young, hefty woman sweeping the floor, and except for the parts about her eyes and my getting between her and the Thank You trash can, that scene went down exactly as I described it.
On my way back home, at the airport security point where someone checks the travelers’ ID and boarding pass before letting them go through the scanners, an older woman checked my driver’s license and used her neon yellow highlight pen to make an approving mark on my boarding pass. I noticed her eyes were a shade of green I rarely see, and, hoping that the fact I most likely never would see her again decreased her suspicion that I was flirting with her (I was not), I commented that they were nice. Our dialog played out as I depicted it in “Sweeper’s Peepers.”
So, while the scene itself (except for my stopping Sweeper and talking directly to her) was completely real, the character was a combination of three different people — all complete strangers — whom I saw during the trip. I guess I wrote it as practice just to see how it felt.