…and sometimes, through no effort of your own, it seeks you.
Last Friday, for my monthly guest gig at Working Stiffs, I wrote about the guy I knew from high school who is currently incarcerated for murder. The post earned some good responses, but I was surprised at the number of people who contacted me privately about murderers they know. I was equally surprised when someone suggested I write a book about the ten years it took for Connie’s disappearance and murder to be solved. I don’t write true crime, so that nixed that idea. Also, while I knew both the killer and the victim, I was long gone when they were married and their troubles began. My connection to them was from happier times.
This is not the first time someone suggested I turn a blog post into a book. It happened when I wrote about Dr. Earl Bradley, the Delaware pediatrician who has been called the worst pedophile in American history. His is a tale of violence, sickness and evil that might serve as a cautionary tale about people trusting figures of authority too well. But I have no connection to that case, other than living in Delaware when his arrest and trial went down. In writing the blog post, I read enough gruesome details to know I don’t want to spend a year of my life delving into the dark side of a very dark story.
My same feeling applies to the story of Patrolman Chad Spicer, who was killed in the line of duty one night two years ago. Officer Spicer was a small town Delaware boy serving on a small town Delaware police force. He had a small child, a loving family, a wonderful reputation. Is this a story someone should share? Perhaps. Is that someone me? No.
How does a writer know when a story is theirs to tell?
As evidenced above, I find a lot of blog posts to share from the news or personal experience. In my fiction writing, I steal from my family. I’ve done well by that. I’ve been awarded a couple of arts grants to record portions of my family history in south Louisiana. I feel connected, so I’ve devoted time and work to creating a fictional version of my own aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Their experiences are based on true events, though told as fiction rather than memoir. I researched to make the town and time accurate to the times. I had to do world building, but the world is based on my own genetic and cultural one. I didn’t experience or witness the events, but I molded them into my version. My story.
When you are a writer, people suggest stories to you all the time. Most of us have no problem coming up with ideas of our own, but you never know when a spark will happen. It happened to me not long ago, on my daily walk through the neighborhood. I walked by the home of someone on my street, and I thought about the rather tragic events going on with them now. And bam! I wanted to write their story, but told in my way, through a rather tragic event of my own. By the time I got home three miles later, I had a full outline brewing in my head.
The story sought me like a heat-seeking missile. I have no personal connection to it other than witnessing what went on with a family on my street, but in an hour I had made it mine. It has spoken to me.
That’s the key, isn’t it? Some stories speak to you. Some don’t. Consider that you have to spend a year of your life, at least, to devote to a novel, you want a story that reaches out and grabs you like a beast from hell and won’t let go.
Seek and ye shall find, the saying goes. Sometimes, for a writer, it’s the opposite. There are a lot of stories out there. Some of them are yours. Why write one that isn’t?