Telling the Story

Writers know that while they plan to write one thing, somewhere along the route to the book something has written something else.

Sounds improbable, likely not applicable to factual tomes, research material or fact books. But writing novels, narratives, memoirs, creative nonfiction, even poetry….these sometimes surprise the writer creating them. Your heart yearns to shape the subject, needs to express it’s emotion. Your brain conceives the structure, the “how to” of it. But while that industrious pair gets about writing the book, the soul speaks.

Telling the story the soul is dying to tell is terrifying. Some writers spill their guts in one long, gut wrenching emesis, often in shocking spew and then hide it under the bed, in the closet, or bury the thing.

Some of us sneak up on it, tap out two short paragraphs and flee for other rooms. We consider denying ever writing anything including shock flash. But we get over it. The thing ever so gently bends, wraps around your jugular and squeezes the story out. We begin to tell it then with a vengeance. Raw, rough, ready. Slam those words onto the page. Pretty it later. Or not.

In a sweat, you stop and read. Lean forward. Squint. Who the hell wrote that? Quick! Delete!

But no, because that sweat was work. Build on it. If it’s a novel, your characters must be believable. I mean, you can be fairly certain Miss Marple never says “well, Shit.” at least not right there on the page. You probably shouldn’t dress her in a miniskirt. Or a Stetson. And don’t dye her hair and give her flip-flops.

If it’s a memoir, you know the players better than anyone. Which of them shaped you most? Who was your fave and why? Develop the cast you were born to. Who did you run from? My cast of characters was large, and yes, colorful. Every last one. Most of them deserved their own book. Mag, the tubercular. Gladys, motorcycle mama. Verna, the hellion. Strock, baseball boy, homie, who refused the Philly A’s so they couldn’t draft him. Cass, who made 40 mm rounds for the Navy. And that’s just half of them.

Calling them to life taught me much about myself. A small number of you have a first look. An even smaller number have very small excerpts. WWII and it’s impact on the nation was the cradle of the birthing of the middle class, don’t you know it. Out of naked need, American girls-to-women became players. We are who we are because of who they were.

All them old girls now, they answered the call, did their thing at least as and often better than their men, returned to their kitchens and aprons, often feeling cast aside, because they were. Kicked to the curb, they eventually recovered and continued to contribute. So that you very with-it women today can be, well, with it. Get to know your Grammy. I’m the one telling her story. Her name isn’t only Rosie. It’s Mabel and Josie and Hazel and Cass. Gert. Sally. Jane. Insert your Gram’s name here.

As I sit and spin this yarn, without fail. my listener unwinds her grandmother, too. Like recalling that old cracked plate that holds the peanut butter sandwiches, those recollections are as common as dust and as unvisited.

Grab a recorder and a mike. Sit her down and grill her. You bet, she’ll talk. You won’t believe her stories, locked up and tucked away in the furthest convolutions of her brain. She doesn’t know they are treasure. She just showed up, stayed for years of days,  and built the war machine.

Send me the transcripts.

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