Posted in Writing

Nowhere and Everywhere

I used to wonder where writers got their ideas. I read Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine and tried to imagine where he came up with the story of Bill Forrester and Helen Loomis and the dish of lime-vanilla ice. I read To Kill a Mockingbird and speculated about the character of Boo Radley. Where in Harper Lee’s mind did he live before he arrived on the paper? Then I started writing, and I never again asked an author where the ideas came from, because I knew.

They come from nowhere and everywhere.

Some stories sneak up on us from our own lives, and we don’t even notice until someone points it out to us. You. There you are. I see you. Others spring from the news or photographs or prompts created to push us into new territories. But most of my stories don’t come from such concrete places.

One of the first short stories I ever wrote was about a disturbed man who blew up a hot air balloon full of his enemies and also, due to a last minute glitch in his plans, the only person in his life who he truly cared about. I never intended to write such a dark story. In fact, the day it came to me I didn’t intend to write anything at all. It was Christmas Day. I was on an airplane with my husband, flying from my family’s home to his. One minute, I was holding a piece of stationery with a hot air balloon on it and looking out the airplane window. The next minute I was furiously scribbling the first draft of “A Fair Day” on a notepad. I had no idea where it came from. I still don’t. The story went through a few rejections and many rounds of revisions, but the basic idea stayed the same, and eventually it found a home in Darker Times Anthology, Volume 5, as runner up in one of their monthly contests.

20150423_095459 (1)
The inspiration for “The Night Children,” published in Havok Magazine in October 2016, came from this library book. I wanted to know who “The Day Children” were. And, if there could be Day Children, didn’t that mean there could also be Night Children? What was their story?

My first published short story was “The Jack-in-the-Box,” which came out in Issue 12 of Dark Moon Digest. That story was born from a combination of experience, memory, and “what if.” I was sitting on the floor of my cousin’s house, playing with her three-year-old daughter. She had a jack-in-the-box with a dragon inside and she begged me to turn the knob over and over and over, delighting each time the lid popped open. As I turned the crank again and again, I thought back to my own childhood jack-in-the-box. It had a clown inside, and the surprise of the POP, though predictable, terrified me so much that I refused to play with it. As I watched the dragon emerge time and time again, I thought, What if one time something was different? I held on to that idea, and when I got home, the first draft of “The Jack-in-the-Box” flowed from my fingers.

613WbpAYwML._SL1024_
The idea for “The Other House” came from my friend’s three-year-old. I like writing stories that scare children, but I love writing stories that scare their parents.

Sometimes though, letting go of an idea is as important as holding on. The story I wrote for Growing Pains, the YA horror anthology from Horrified Press, was inspired by a Facebook post. A friend wrote: Omg. Something in my attic is *knocking*. Like, “Hello? Is anyone home?” knocking. If I don’t come back, don’t send anyone after me. While my friend was dealing with her attic guest, I was typing the first draft of “The Girl in the Attic,” a tale about a twelve-year-old girl who hears a knock coming from the inside of an attic door that has been nailed shut for sixty years. She decides to pry the door open. But the more I wrote, the more I realized there was a problem. It was the knock. It didn’t fit with the rest of the story, and the more I tried to make it work, the more the story fell apart. Finally, I realized I had to let that part go. While the eerie knocking sound had been the instrument of horror in my friend’s real life, in the story I’d created, it was superfluous. It was hard to hit the delete key, but the piece was made better by the cut. (By the way, my friend DID investigate the sound in her attic, and she made it back just fine.)

Screen Shot 2018-04-22 at 1.11.42 PM
“Teardrops and Watermelon Seeds” is my favorite of all my stories. It was inspired by an article about magical realism in this issue of Writer’s Digest. “Teardrops” was first published in Spark: A Creative Anthology in 2016 and will soon be appearing in Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things.

Our ideas come from everywhere and nowhere. They slip in through cracks. They whisper in our ears while we’re sleeping. They pounce on us from shadows. Some of them even knock. Our job is to let them lead us, and then know when to let them go.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Life, Writing

A Father’s Gifts

I’m thankful that I have a father in my life, and I’m extremely thankful to have one as fun and unique and loving as my dad.

My dad has given me so many things: love, support, laughter, poetry books, one-of-a-kind Halloween-birthday parties, and road trips, to name a few. He gave me my nose (slightly crooked like his) and my ability to snore (thanks, Dad). He coached my softball team, attended all my band concerts, taught me to drive, and let me have the puppy I asked for without even checking with Mom first. (It’s ok, she loved the puppy too.)

My dad was the first person to read my whole novel. He stayed up most of the night to finish it. I woke up the next morning to find the manuscript sitting on the kitchen table with a sticky note that said, “Loved it.” You can bet that made me feel good.

While pets and sports and birthday parties are not unusual father/daughter activities, my dad has also given me a few gifts over the years that aren’t quite so common.

Made With Love

Some of the coolest things my dad has given me are his stories and his artwork, which are kind of the same thing. His stories paint vivid pictures and his artwork definitely tells tales, sometimes literally. I have four binders full of the mail he sent me in college, each letter inside an envelope covered with his ink and watercolor drawings, many depicting funny family moments. And I have a computer file full of his life stories, emailed to me in pieces over the past seven years.

To see some of his artwork envelopes and read one of his stories (about chickens), visit this Father’s Day post from four years ago.

IMG_0001 copy
A snippet from one of his painted envelopes, depicting a classic dad moment

Dad also likes to make things. I have a beautiful and very sturdy (read “extremely heavy”) bookcase that he built for me in college and a walking stick that he carved and varnished with his own two hands. I also have several homemade Halloween decorations including this awesome haunted birdhouse he gave me for my birthday in 2014.

Build a nest if you DARE, little birdies!
Build a nest if you DARE, little birdies!

Stories and drawings and homemade crafts still aren’t too far outside the norm, when it comes to presents, but a few of my father’s gifts have been truly weird.

People Say I Have My Father’s Eyes… They’re Half Right

About fifteen years ago, my dad gave me a coin purse made out of a frog. You heard me.

FrogPurse

Several months ago, my dad gave me an Aztec figurine, found in Mexico decades ago and given to him by a friend. It resides in this plastic container because, three times when I’ve picked it up, it has shot an electric pain into my thumb for reasons I can’t explain. I’m not kidding.

IMG_20160615_151620

And recently, my dad gave me his glass eye. Well, not HIS glass eye. It’s the glass eye that he’s had since I was a kid, the one he took out of the lost and found at his work after it had been there for years. I’m assuming he washed it at some point. (Note: His real eyes, like mine, are hazel. This one is brown.) Anyway, now it’s mine.

IMG_20160617_205611 (1)

Weird? Yes. Totally. TOO weird? No. Not at all. You see, my dad knows me. He probably knew that I would keep that frog purse in my classroom and find delight in shocking my students with it. He probably knew that the cool (and also creepy) Aztec figurine would end up in one of my horror stories. (Draft still in progress.) He probably knew that every time I looked at the glass eye, I would think about how he sometimes used to clasp his hands over his face and stagger around, complaining that he had something in his eye before finally saying, “I think I got it,” and opening his fingers to reveal… the glass eye resting in his palm. And he knew that would make me smile.

I love my father’s gifts. All of them. And I love him.

FathersDayBlogPhoto
Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I love you! 🙂

 

Posted in Life

Lost And Found

My Facebook timeline is filled with photos of dorm rooms.

The students I taught during my ninth year of teaching are now heading off to college, and a few of them have been gracious enough to “friend” me so that I can come along for the ride. Some of their dorm rooms are more chic and stylish than any apartment I ever lived in, but others remind me very much of the two years I spent in Jester at UT. Jester may not have been “cool” but it was affordable and sufficient and made a fine home-away-from-home. I made some good memories there.

I also found some good memories there.

JesterDorm1995
My freshman dorm room in 1995, complete with a Toonces the Driving Cat poster on the wall.

 

The Stories That Hide Under Our Beds

In 1996, during my freshman year at UT, I found beneath my dorm room bed treasures dating back to 1977. The proof that no one had vacuumed under there in nineteen years came in the form of photographs and newspaper clippings and receipts and the student ID card of a girl who had lived in my room ten years before me. Being the packrat that I am, I kept these things, tucked inside my journal, and spent the next several years wondering about their owners. The ID card intrigued me the most. Here was a name and a picture and a date. I couldn’t help but speculate about the life of this girl named Amy Spear.

20130907_172857

One year ago today, when I opened my old journal and stumbled upon these relics again, I finally decided to try to find her. So I posted her photo and my story on my blog and asked my readers to help us unite.

Twenty-four hours later, I had a Facebook friend request from Amy Spear. And six days after that, I was buying her a cup of coffee and learning all about her life.

To read the whole story (which involves a leprechaun and a trip to Houston and a batch of homemade cookies) click the links below:

* Part 1: The Things That Hide Under Our Beds
* Part 2: Well That Was Fast! – Finding Amy Spear
* Part 3: A Happy Reunion – Meeting Amy Spear

Poking Around in the Past

As I scroll through the first week photos of the college freshmen I know, I see a lot of words like start and new and beginning and first and ready. Everyone’s looking forward, focusing on the future, determined to make those college dorm rooms their own.

My advice to you is this: Enjoy the newness of your space and make your memories there. But don’t spend so much time looking forward that you forget to look back… or under. There’s history in those rooms you now inhabit. Beneath the floorboards and countless layers of paint, stories lurk, and maybe a few friendly ghosts. Poke around a bit. You never know what (or who) you might find.

20130408_174948