Thursday, May 05, 2016

Never Waste a Good Story

Aline’s entry from Monday concerning the ethics of using a third party’s actual life experience as a plot line, plus last weekend’s guest entry by Leslie Dana Kirby about how her debut novel was inspired by the O.J. Simpson case, brought to mind an entry I (Donis) did on a similar theme several years ago on this very site. I use real events, both historical and personal, all the time in my books. When I use personal events, I either disguise them or ask permission of the individual to whom it happened. I do have the writer’s mind, though, and when I hear an intriguing story, I do not forget it, and like Aline, I ponder long and hard on how I can use it in a book. Sometimes I ponder long and hard for decades, as I noted in this entry from 2011:

My third novel, The Drop Edge of Yonder,  was thirty years in the making. There are at least two pivotal scenes in the book that owe their existence to newspaper articles that stayed with me all that time. I read the first story when I lived in Lubbock, Texas, back in the ’70′s. Two women, an elderly mother and her grown daughter, were out shopping together, walking down the street and minding their own business, when a crazy person ran up and attacked the daughter out of the blue. The old mother saved her daughter when she jumped on the crazy man’s back and pummeled him and bit on him and basically beat the heck out of him.

Somewhere around the same time, I read an interview with an old British soldier who had fought the Massoud in Palestine after WWII. He described a fighter who came at him tooth and claw and absolutely refused to be killed, even after he shot him and stabbed him and beat him with the butt of his rifle. The fighter finally sunk his teeth in the soldier’s foot and the soldier had to decapitate him to make him let go. The soldier said it was the scariest thing that had ever happened to him in his life. I took both these images and put them together to create one of the climatic scenes of the book.

The opening scene of Drop Edge isn’t quite as old an image in my head as the other two, but it is also a tale that took me a long time to tell. Seven or eight years before I began writing that particular book, I did a family genealogy for my sibs for Christmas, which as you regular Dear Readers may know, is one of the things that inspired me to write my Alafair Tucker series in the first place . One of the things I learned while doing research on my family was the story of one of my a great-great grandfathers and three of his companions who were returning from the Civil War Battle of Pea Ridge when they stopped a few miles from home to rob a bee hive in a tree. While they were smoking the hive, they were ambushed by bushwhackers and killed. They were found by their families a few hours later but lay dead in the field over night, guarded from wild animals by their wives until morning, when they were buried where they fell.

(p.s. the following was also included in the same 2011 blog entry—I repost it now because it is five years later and the high school reunion is about to recur, and now it is not just depressing, it’s unbelievably depressing) On another topic, I recently received an invitation to a depressingly high-numbered high school reunion coming up in October. I graduated from Nathan Hale High in Tulsa in a class of nearly 700 people. (Nathan Hale is the guy who, while about to be hanged by the British as a spy during the American Revolution, said, “I regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” which I always thought was one of history’s great instances of bravado in the face of death. If it had been me, I might have done my patriotic duty like Nathan did, but when it came time to die, my last words would have been along the lines of , “For the love of God, please don’t hang me.” Of course, nobody would have named a high school after me, either.)

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