Goodbye to the Working Stiffs

Today  I posted my last guest post at the wonderful, Pittsburgh-based group blog known as the Working Stiffs.

My post today discussed writers as artists. You, the Artist asks writers to accept that the words they piece together into stories is indeed art, and we should all band together to encourage the next generation as they enter the wacky world of writing and publishing.

I’ve had a lot of fun as a Working Stiffs contributor. Posting there allowed me to touch on a range of subjects–some light, some dark–but I hope all thought provoking in some way. It was a great pleasure to work with such fine writers, who amused, challenged and entertained me with their posts, and honored me with their friendship.

Here’s a summary of my contributions to the Working Stiffs:

The Gift of Time and a Boxed Lunch. (Yay! I’ve been accepted to an artists’ colony!)

Over There. (A Veterans Day history lesson on the War to End All Wars—ha—and the little known Bonus Army of 1932.)

Paging the Lorax. (I speak for the Hwy.  50 Shoe Tree and the Spirit Oaks at Toomer’s Corner.)

Twelve Average Citizens. (On a quiet Tuesday night in Georgetown, Delaware, a Patrolman named Chad Spicer was killed in the line of duty.)  

Who Do You Love?  (The story of Charles:  the love of my life—and how he wooed me when I was five.)

Double Dating a Killer. (Have you ever known a murderer?)  

A Position of Trust. (On Dr. Earl Bradley, the worst pedophile you’ve never heard of, and how he was able to abuse so many children, for so long.)

Are You Intrepid?  (On being brave, and trying something new in life.)

Beggars Can’t Be Writers. (Is it okay to ask for something for nothing? If so, tell me where to put the DONATE button.)

In With the Old. (A recipe for My Favorite Cake, and why a vintage cake cover is necessary for success.)

Three Questions for Two New Authors. (A couple of new mystery writers to watch.)

I’m a Big Girl Now. (Will your parents ever stop treating you like a child? No, probably not, but you gotta love ‘em for boldly not trying.)

I Bought the Book, It’s Mine Now, So….(Is it a sacrilege to write in a published book?)

To Have and To Hold…A Grudge. (A post-election look at Delaware’s Return Day tradition, and a question about how long you hang onto hard feelings.)

Three Travel Adventures (Embarrassing moments on the road.) 

I’m Not a Believer. (Goblins, ghosts, woo woo and voodoo—what rattles your chains?)  

Sometimes You Seek the Story….

…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?