Working as a newspaper reporter, I learned that everyone has a story to tell. Everyone is interesting in some way or has had interesting things happen to them. Sometimes, they would just as soon keep their story untold, but most people, I’ve found, need little more than a “how are you today?” to spill their guts.
In my hometown, it’s not unusual to meet a senior citizen who worked at the bomber plant where the Enola Gay was built. The former owner of our new house worked there and I have his tool box from those days. My husband’s grandfather worked there too.
So you meet these men and women who spent their days building planes that would drop bombs on the enemy in World War II. The Enola Gay would ultimately drop the atom bomb on Japan. I like talking to the old folks about Martin’s Bomber Plant, but I hate the idea that I know people who, usually through necessity, worked to put planes in the air that would eventually kill so many in such a horrific way.
OK, we’re all entitled to our opinion, but if you want that story, put your opinion on the back burner and just let them talk. Try to put yourself in that time, in that person’s shoes. Jobs were scarce, we were at war, we had been attacked, for the first time, on American soil. So shut up and let them talk. You already know your story, you want to hear a new one.
So now I just told you my story. I used to be a reporter and I love finding new stories and writing them down, kind of spreading the story around so it doesn’t get forgotten. I hear writers say all the time “Write what you know.” I guess I would agree with that. It would be easier, that’s for sure, for me to write about a female newspaper reporter than it would be to write from the viewpoint of a Buddhist monk. Or a man.
But I’m hanging on to all those stories I gathered, the stories I wrote for the paper, as well as all the stories I’ve heard throughout my life. My dad is a wonderful storyteller. He’s got a good ear for dialogue, and he knows how to hit the dramatic moments just right. I learn from him every time we talk.
I just took one of my dad’s family legends (a story I’ve heard many times over the years) and changed it into a horror story. It sold, too! Writing that story is a proud moment for me, because that legend never had an ending. One night my father (age 14 or so) and some other men went searching for a woman who, for no reason anyone ever discovered, took off running through the woods. She was pregnant and there was a lot at stake, so everyone was out in the dark Ozark woods looking for her.
The group of men my dad was with went to an abandoned farm to look for her. Before they could get to the house, the old cellar door started opening and shutting, scaring the search party half to death. They went to check if the woman was in the cellar and she wasn’t. Nothing was in the cellar. They went on home, creeped out of course and discovered the woman had been found safe and sound. But I always wanted to know, why the heck did that cellar door flap open and shut? And how? A cellar door is heavy, a wind doesn’t just set it to flapping. So I sat down and made up some big lies and I had a nice horror story.
My dad liked the story, by the way, except “you got a little carried away there at the end.” By which he means the parts I added to HIS story. That’s okay. I like my ending, and I’ve been holding onto that story all my life.
Stories don’t always lead to a good writing experience, sometimes they’re just annoying and small-minded. Or as boring as watching the grass grow. So I just collect most of them, keep them tucked away in my brain. Friends know I like to talk and I like to tell a good story, like my dad does.
Now I’m just learning and finally accomplishing my goal of taking those bits and pieces of stories and writing what I know. Maybe add some made-up stuff, a few little embellishments, maybe make a coward into a brave man, or a housewife into a zombie hunter.
All I know is that just like everyone else, I have stories to tell. I hope I get to send those stories out into the world for more people to read. That’s the goal of every writer, to get that book or story out there for others to read. So wish me luck. I’m feeling feisty this week, after selling that story I built on top of my dad’s old legend.
This coming week, I am writing a story about a snake charmer who was raised in the snake-handling churches back in the Appalachian Mountains. No, I’m not afraid of snakes, but I am a bit afraid of people who think it’s a good idea to pick up poisonous snakes for the purposes of worshipping God. So let me get back to writing and see what I can do with this story.