I read an article a few weeks ago about the favorite working spots of ten famous authors, and it appears I’m never going to amount to much as a writer. EB White wrote in a shed – always. Stephen King writes in a corner – always. Flannery O’Connor said, “I write only about two hours every day…at the same time and the same place.” I’m more comfortable in different places on different days. Well, crap.
One of my favorite writing spots is shown in the top picture to the right. It’s a coffee shop here in town. It’s usually crowded, and I don’t get to pick the music, but sometimes I find more privacy in the noise and bustle of lots of people than I do sitting at my desk at home. Occasionally, someone sits nearby who has an obnoxious voice, and that can be disturbing. One day a couple of weeks ago, though, a family sat down at the table behind me and quietly destroyed my writing time as they planted the seed of a short story in my brain. It wasn’t the toddler who wreaked such havoc; it was the parents.
The story is germinating now, and it gives me a little kick now and then to let me know it’s there. My original vision was to describe the family as they appeared, in all their status quo glory. The process wouldn’t start, though, because that’s not the story. The story is the tears that started when she brought up their relationship. It’s the pain that pushed me forward when he lashed out in response. It’s the lie they told when the server approached and they magically transformed into the happy middle-class family they appeared to be. It’s the fangs that came back out as soon as she turned and left the table.
That’s the story that wants to be told. It’s ugly. That means I have a choice. No, it doesn’t involve whether or not to write the piece. Once it’s been fully cogitated, this tale will pound on the inside of my skull until I let it out. My choice is whether to make the story palatable, and maybe sellable, or make it truthful, and ugly. Granted, ugly sells more often than not, but I’m not talking about ugly as a goal. I’m talking about ugly as a function of truth. The kind of ugly we dread seeing in ourselves. The kind of ugly we don’t like.
Papa Hemingway said, “All stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.” That, at least, should make any choices I have pretty easy ones. I don’t know yet what this thing is going to look like when it’s done. It hasn’t decided. I know the little beast will tell me when it’s time, though.