For my first Cereal Authors post, it was suggested I introduce myself. I did that in my bio, which represents the sum total of all I really want to say about me. I’m not such an interesting person. Trust me on this.
I am a teller of tales—other people’s tales—although I include in that my own reactions to people and the events that surround them. Great stories are everywhere—so much so that if we allow it we will drown in them, be overwhelmed by them, be smacked right in the face by them at every turn.
I will never be short of story ideas, only short of time to write them all down.
I watch the great ones, too. There is much to be learned. William Least Heat-Moon, author of the American classic Blue Highways (1983), is always listening, asking, jotting notes. I’ve watched him coax more than one restaurant server into spilling the most unique details of her life—all her hopes and dreams—simply by asking the right questions as she refills our water glasses. And he listens. Really listens.
Amazingly, when you tell people you’re a writer, doors open. People will tell you anything (usually). Colorful characters who persevere amid the controversy and extremes of our world offer endless plot possibilities if you’re a fiction writer, and suggest many opportunities to tell tales that are real and honest if you are not.
I once met two bikers from northern Colorado while traveling through the San Juans. They spoke of the time they had passed through Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and spotted blackberries “the size of your thumb” alongside the road. (They held up their thumbs as a point of reference.) The two stopped and ate their fill and, later that night, were mystified by the little red welts that freckled their bodies. They had never heard of chiggers before, those tiny mites of the Midwest whose bites cause a mighty itch. It’s hard to imagine characters more colorful than these.
Or how about the lady I met who broke the law and watered a treasured tomato plant during a drought when water was being rationed in her Colorado town? Although she used dirty dish water to nurture the plant on her front porch, a neighbor—once her good friend—reported her to the police. The plot twists that could grow out of that feud!
Then there is the old guy from Tucumcari who euthanized scorpions and sold them to tourists for souvenirs. He strung several together beneath the wooden slats of his porch and shined a UV light on them at night to frighten visitors. What would Stephen King do with that?
All real people, all true stories—just waiting to be plopped down in the middle of a book.