Field Studies: The Beginnings of Heartache Harry

In The Floozies of Fate, my protagonist, Marty, falls for a guy named Heartache Harry. People often ask me where my character ideas come from.

Here’s one example:

My Favorite Bartender

During college, my roommate and I hung out at a bar near campus.  We palled around with the guys who worked there. Pretty much all one summer, the bunch of us played endless games of spades either at the bar or at one of our apartments. The guys, Rick, the two Dougs, the two Tims, and a rotating assortment of their friends were all either bartenders or “bouncers” at the bar.

There was one bartender, though, who hardly ever spent time with our gang.

The first time I saw him, I looked at my roommates and said, “That boy is a heartache waiting to happen!” One of the other bartenders overheard me and, for the rest of the night, called him “Heartache Harry”.

The nickname stuck and, much to Harry’s dismay, spread among our group. It didn’t help that the Eagle’s song “Heartache Tonight”  dropped that year. The other guys, having gained control of the sound system and knowing how much I loved it, played it often. And we all sang it loudly and proudly.

Poor Harry.

Harry was WAY out of my league and I knew it.

Despite this, or maybe because of it,  I found him fascinating. I spent endless hours parked front and center at the bar, observing him like I was Dian Fossey and he was a wild gorilla.  I particularly enjoyed watching him interact with whichever gorgeous girl he was putting the moves on or was in the process of dumping.

Not surprisingly, Harry dumping someone happened a lot. He played the field hard and often juggled more than one girl at a time.  Happily, most of Harry’s interactions with his women happened to occur while he tended bar.

Harry had a master’s at multitasking, never missing a beat with pulling a beer or taking an order, all the while giving back as good as he got whenever one of his conquests caught on to his doggish ways and decided to confront him at the bar.

He never stopped smiling, either, even when in the midst of one of these epic battles. And let me assure you, Harry’s smile lit up a room. Whatever “it” is – I guess it’s charisma or star power – Harry oozed it from every pore.

Who’s That Guy?

One day, as I trudged across campus heading to my next class or to meet up with a friend or something like that, I heard a guy holler my name several times.  I looked up and there, on a bike across the street was a guy that, well, I really didn’t recognize.  I smiled, waved, and kept going, wondering how he knew me.

He had looked pretty cute and seemed vaguely familiar, but I just couldn’t place him. Later that night, one of the Tims (who I happened to be sort of “dating”) and I decided to spend some time alone rather than hang out with the rest of the gang. My roommate and the boys spent a couple of hours playing cards at the bar, then decided to move the game to – get this – Harry’s apartment!

Missing Out

It seems that traffic at the bar slowed and Harry got off early. He also happened to be between girls, so invited them over to his place.  My one shot at observing the subject in his natural habitat, and there I sat in a movie theater watching some forgettable film with a guy  I just wasn’t that into! (Okay – Tim, if you ever come across this blog and recognize yourself, I hereby apologize for what I just wrote. But, you have to admit you sort of have it coming for what you did later in the summer.)

Later, when I got home, my roommate just couldn’t WAIT to spill the news: the cute boy I had seen earlier in the day had, of course, been Harry.

To this day I’m still not sure why I didn’t recognize him. Maybe the Brave’s hat he had on over his sandy blonde hair and the Ray-Bans that covered half his face had acted as an effective disguise.

Anyway, when they got to his apartment, Harry cornered my roommate and questioned her, apparently relentlessly, about why I had been so aloof when he’d seen me that afternoon.

Didn’t I like him anymore?

Wasn’t I the one who was always mooning around, watching every move he made?

It shocked him that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to spend quality one on one time with him. He had planned to buy me an ice cream cone or a beer or … something.

And I just brushed him off.

Me, brushing him off!


Oh, and where was I? Out with Tim?

Tim? What on earth was I doing with Tim?

Then, evidently, according to my roommate, he spent the rest of the night alternating between trashing Tim and sulking.

Is there a point to this long-winded story?

Sort of.

You see, I was right and I was wrong when I gave Harry the nickname.

Because that night, while I was sitting in a movie theater, holding hands with a guy that wasn’t Harry, a heartache did happen.

Just not to me.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. 😉



Ever wonder about how some of your favorite songs come about? I do!  Here’s a link to the story about the Eagle’s song, “Heartache Tonight”, which is how poor Harry got his nickname. And here’s a link to the YouTube video of the song. Enjoy!


Do you ever wonder where authors get their character ideas?


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Photograph: by Maciej Korsan