On Finding the Story
by Midge Raymond
(This isn’t normally the way I write, but I’ve learned over the years not to attempt to move a content cat. I’ve got the scars to prove it.)
On this particular day, I was working on a revision; this writing space is where I revise. Somewhere between inspiration and finishing a story, I’ll be at this desk figuring it out.
Finding the beginning of a story is the easy part; stories are everywhere. Most of the stories in Forgetting English began during certain moments that stuck with me for one reason or another: The day a ring arrived in the alumni office where I worked (“The Road to Hana”); the moment I saw a Japanese couple clap their hands at the Zozo-ji temple in Tokyo (“Translation Memory”); the time I picked up a hotel room phone to discover someone else’s message (“Rest of World”). Because I have an overactive imagination, it doesn’t take much; all I need is an image, a snippet of dialogue, a gesture—and a story will begin to take shape.
“The Road to Hana,” for example, began when one of my colleagues at the alumni office received a ring in the mail, sent by an alumna who had stolen it from her roommate years ago and hoped we could return it for her. Immediately intrigued but not knowing anything about these people, I began filling in the blanks on my own—and this fictional backstory became a large part of “The Road to Hana.”
“Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean” began during a trip to Hawaii during which I was struck by how many nannies I saw taking care of children, how few parents, and how easy it was to tell the difference. The story simmered in the back of my mind for a while until eventually I wrote a few paragraphs, printed them out, and battled with the cat as I attempted to edit them.
Yet despite story beginnings that seem to write themselves, there’s a reason I need to spend so much time at this little desk: Finding the story is the more challenging part. I write draft after draft after draft, often so many that I lose count. “The Road to Hana” took only six drafts (which is kind of a miracle), “Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean” took eleven, and “Rest of World” took eighteen. And “Lost Art” holds the record for Forgetting English: I wrote it in no fewer than forty drafts.
Writing so many drafts may sound tedious to most people, but for me, it’s the most fun: writing pages and pages of dialogue and description, spending hours in another character’s head, exploring the myriad directions a story can take. The only real drawback is dealing with the scratches I’ll endure from the cat as I try to retrieve my notes—but on some days, he’ll curl up in my lap and purr. And those are the best writing days of all.
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Forgetting English, and found it to be both perceptive and affecting, which is something rare to find among short stories. So without further ado, here’s Midge, here to discuss her inspiration and to share a bit about her workspace with us today. Enjoy!
Posted by Zibilee at 8:00 AM