On one East Los Angeles block, down from our house, there lived a family of kids. Their mother was from Tennessee or South Carolina I think; a red-harried, freckled lady, set down there in L.A. with a family whose last name was Martinez or maybe Garcia, I forget. Even at age seven, I saw a story to tell there.
The two oldest daughters, Maybelline and Tammy where freckled red-heads like their mother, and the smallest, a boy, Danny-Ray was a tow-head. But the second to youngest, Wendy– she had dark brown hair and Mexican skin like their father, Windy– who she was kind-of-named after.
Then, in a city to the East, two or three years later, there lived ,in an apartment behind our house, another family of blondes; a girl and boy. I can’t remember her name, but her little brother was named Chance.
And these children stayed with me.
Two of the stories from my short story collection, Claiming One, ‘Secrets of the Days and Nights’ and ‘Dead For Awhile’ were culled from my upcoming novel, ‘A House of Light and Stone’. The small main character is Duffy, and I like her little universe. Writing Duffy’s world is easy for me. I’ve seen models for her life and watched roles like hers, in neighborhoods I’ve grown up in, in families I’ve known.
The physical models for the kids in these stories come from two places.
When it comes to writing, we fiction people seem to soak up so much around us that the sense memories, the models and the roles are just waiting within us, to be plucked, like fruit from low hanging branches, and mixed into the confections we whip up.
These children. Their faces and colorings and dynamics stayed with me and in the intervening years have morphed into story-children in my fiction.
I’m not writing Chance or Wendy’s lives in this new novel – the two have never met. And I never saw them beyond the one or two years they lived on the same blocks I did.
I’m creating something out of my writer’s mind, the one that is constantly asking me to detail and sketch in the what if’s — that mind that asks and asks and asks; until I find an answer and put it to the page.
I've let myself observe and gather. Let myself move the echoes of the people I've come across around a chessboard only I can see. I've said, "Populate the playhouse in your writer’s mind. Tell a new story from old remembered shapes.
Ask ‘What if?"
Because, when you get an answer to that – then capture it, expand on it, you turn a remembered reality into fiction. You have a story telling a much deeper truth than any you may have lived to see.
Just remember, at some point you might need to add:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters and incidents are
the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to
actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
(a version of this text was first used in my post "Roles and Models", published 14 Jan 2012, on my old wordpress blog)
About The AuthorE.J. Runyon Author, Writing Coach at Bridge to Story at Bridge to Story http://www.ejrunyon.com/
I am a writer, coach, and the creator of BridgetoStory.com, a writing service providing instruction to novices and other writers online and off. I've coached writers as individuals and in small groups since 1997.