Category Archives: Meandering Thoughts

Everyone is a story

In journalism, one of the first ropes you have to learn is don’t focus on your assignment so much that you miss opportunities for other stories. It’s something each of us learns the hard way at least once. You go to a city council meeting to write about a controversial new development and miss the city manager’s comments that imply a major tax increase is needed in next year’s budget. Or you scribble furiously about building projects in the school district’s bond election and ignore the brief report about a how a teacher’s innovative methods are having incredible results.

My moment came in college at Sam Houston State University. Lech Walesa, a major figure in Poland’s independence from the USSR, received a humanitarian award from the school. All of us in the class were supposed to cover the event, which we dutifully did. And all but one or two completely spaced out on a history professor’s beautiful and heart wrenching story of his family’s flight from Poland.

A closely related principle is that everyone has a story. While I may have missed the first one on a few occasions, this is an area I have always done fairly well with. One of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten  from an editor was that I could get a story out of anything. While whatever level of writing talent I have may play a role in that, I think a bigger part of it is simply that I’m willing to let people tell their stories and I realize they’re all important in their own ways.

I was reminded of this the other day at a laundromat. Our washing machine suffered a sort of chain-reaction breakdown, and we hadn’t replaced it yet. So I took a couple of loads and my Kindle and figured I’d get a little reading in while the clothes got cleaned.

What I got instead was a conversation with a man passing through Paris, Texas, on a sort of never-ending tour of the country. A retired police officer, he’d been living in New Mexico when he lost just about everything in the housing market crash a few years ago. He bought a Ford cargo van (which looks a lot like the behemoth we purchased for our own extended family), put a few hooks, a mattress and other odds and ends inside, and he’s been traveling ever since. “I like traveling anyway,” he said. “I can live cheap.”

On the road, he’s met people who run laundromats and will talk on and on about high-efficiency vs traditional washing machines. He’s become an expert on the places to eat and avoid on his regular routes (and here I thought all Sonics were pretty much the same). And he swapped a few stories with a part-time journalist/full-time teacher. I don’t know the man’s name, and I doubt he remembered me the next morning. But he’s a face, a real person affected by these widespread economic woes we keep hearing about. He’s a chance intersection of lives that left a lasting impression. And he is a reminder of the truth Samwise Gamgee once observed: We’re all part of a bigger story that our own lives continue to ravel and weave.

As I said, journalism teaches us not to overlook the potential stories out there and to keep in mind that everyone has a story. But observing life through the eyes of a writer tells us that everyone is a story in his own right. We just have to pay attention, even at the laundromat.


I’m not quite dead…

As you can probably tell from my blog posts recently, I’ve been reading a little bit more than I have in awhile. And it’s been nice to have that opportunity. As writers we hear how important it is to read, but you don’t realize the truth of it sometimes until the opportunity presents itself. But that’s not all I’ve been doing.

I’m about 2,300 words further into Once Upon an Ever After. Again, perhaps not the greatest of metrics as that only puts me about 4,500 words in, but it’s progress. Which is something on my tight schedule. Even better, I’m nearly done with the second chapter, “Going to the Church House.” Soon I’ll start on Chapter 3, “Be it Ever so Humble.” I’ve also been able to figure out some backstory/worldbuilding points that have been bugging me. Namely, how the faerie world  managed to gain the upper hand over the humans. I’d been working with an idea for awhile,but it was bugging me because it didn’t quite feel right. Now it does. I’ll probably put it into a prologue. This is an approach I’ve picked up from C.S. Friedman‘s Coldfire Trilogy. In two of the books, she put a little bit about the history of Erna as it related to the current story (how humans got to work the fae and the origins of the Hunter). I know some people don’t like prologues, but that has always intrigued me. It’s how I begin Jennings Grove and The Final Quarter.

On a more frustrating front, I’ve had another ping from my “Twitter muse,” the one that keeps throwing ideas at me. It’s hard enough to find time to work on Once Upon an Ever After without other cool ideas bombarding me. I had one a few weeks ago (about a guy who ages forward and backward over and over again), but it’s managed to leave me alone. This one won’t. If I can find the time (ha ha) to work on it, Remember the Alamo would be a steampunk horror novel set during an alternate Texas Revolution. I’ve been wanting to do a steampunk story for some time, but couldn’t ever come up with an idea. Now that I have…it’s hard to remain focused on the WiP. Oh, well. I’ll manage. And if I get stuck on the current work, I can move over to that one, I suppose.

Why do you do what you do?

I’ve made a small bit of progress on “Once Upon an Ever After” this week. I’m about five hundred words or so into Chapter 2: Going to the Church House (Chapter 1 is Peaches & Scream). I know many writers post their word metrics and rejoice their productivity, or bemoan the lack thereof. I’m not here to do either. By most measures, that’s pretty pitiful for a week, but it’s proof to me that I’m still making progress, however small.

Much of the overall plot still eludes me, but I have noticed a trend in the ideas I’m working with these days. I’m working a lot with traditional fairy tale critters in a modern setting. And that brings to mind the question: Why do you do what you do?

I don’t mean so much why write as where the decisions come from as to what to write about. The first question is answered on the front page of this site. Writers write because it’s what we do, much in the same way that fish fly and birds swim. But why write the things we do? I was recently asked this question for a blog — specifically why I wrote zombie tales. I can answer that in part. I like exploring primal fears, such as darkness (Jennings Grove) and death (zombies). I’m also a huge fantasy fan. Aside from that, though, it’s a hard questonto answer. There’s something about bringing the fairy world to a gritty, modern reality that I like. With Once Upon an Ever After, it’s mostly a case of inspiration struck, and I’m not going to let it go.

And that’s good enough for me. I know self-reflection is a good thing, but there’s little point in winding up like Narcissus and staring at that reflection until you die. I’ll save it for my editing.

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