Author and lecturer Laura Janis Thompson wrote an intriguing post on April 15 about the impact of “pivotal moments” in our lives. It is just too good not to share. She offers a thoughtful take about we writers (and some of you write too, I know) out here:
…Maybe we’ll disguise ourselves as a character in one of our books or essays, or maybe we’ll lay it all out in a blogpost.
Sometimes, we repeat ourselves. Different pieces written by the same author may all feature a character whose sister is an alcoholic, for example. If you read us regularly, you’ll get to know us that way.
It occurred to me, after recently reading a friend’s blog post, that her theme, her pivotal moment has altered her life in a painful, heart-wrenching manner. Having read her work for quite some time, I’ve come to know this to be part of her identity, who she is as a person and as a writer…
There is lots more – including her own “pivotal moment.” (For that, you have to click over. I am not giving it away.)
Reading her post, I reflected upon my own writing particularly in light of the (FREE) short story I had just released here on the blog…
…It is built around an American man having a chance encounter with a woman foreign tourist in a U.S. airport lounge.
And that one sentence summary of it I bet is no great shock to you.
For what has been a pivotal moment in my life? Undoubtedly a major one was a chance encounter and relationship I had in my mid-twenties. Two decades later, it came to form the direct underpinning for my first three novels:
I had never known anyone like her. Through her I also made other friends… and traveled to places that just a few years earlier I had never imagined I would have ever seen in person. It was not always a happy and positive experience (some of it, to be honest, my own doing); but due to all of it, my life outlook was altered dramatically and there was no going back to what was before. (I would almost certainly never have eventually married the woman I love had I not had those earlier experiences.)
My suburban New York City upbringing had not been at all adventurous and was even inward-looking. I had never flown on a plane with my parents because my mother adamantly refused to fly (and to her dying day never did). So while my friends were jetting off for their vacations to places like Disney World or California or the Caribbean, or even to Europe, when I was growing up we never went anywhere as a family we could not reach within about a few hours by car.
Indeed a girlfriend of mine briefly when we were in junior high school (age 14) had been born in (gasp!) a foreign country… and even THAT was a lot for my mom to take:
But my mother’s older brother, my godfather, who had been an author since the early 1980s, was a major family exception.
My uncle had some twenty years before married my future aunt: an Italian-German. He traveled a great deal in his youth and during their early marriage years, including, unsurprisingly, to Europe several times. In the early 1990s, he also visited Europe on book tours, to participate in writers’ conferences, and to see local publishers.
Back at home, he was also not considered to be “normal” by either my mother or by my grandmother. Authoring was, to them, never a “real job.” That remained their opinion even though he managed to SUPPORT HIMSELF largely by writing some half a dozen novels, published by major companies, for about two decades.
What did my uncle write about? His tales stemmed essentially from his own “pivotal moments” and experiences as a former New York City police officer and detective.
As a teen and twenty-something, I admired what he did: I so wished I could write too. I also knew I could not write the sort of books he wrote. There matters sat until, by the early 2000s, he was virtually badgering me that in fact I had MY OWN EXPERIENCES to use as a basis to write and that I should not just toss them away unused. I had not seen it quite that same way previously and finally I decided I would (secretly, in case what I wrote was awful) throw myself into it and see what I could do.
A couple of years later, I revealed to him what I had been up to. Eagerly he read (I was a nervous wreck as he did) my first two books shortly before his death in 2015, told me he liked them (objective as a writer, thankfully he did not hold my at times “warts and all” fictionalization of him against me!), and urged me to keep at it. That endorsement from him helped “push” me further into writing what I do: tales revolving around those who come together from great distances, often by chance, and maybe they become so necessary in each other’s lives that no other life eventually may even seem conceivable to them:
Truman Capote once (reputedly) stated that he went to so many lavish parties thrown by Hollywood, the wealthy, and the blue-blooded… because he always needed new material. I never forgot that witticism. I pay close attention now to EVERYONE and to EVERYTHING that happens around me (including in, uh, airport lounges) because I have learned THAT is the stuff from which NOVELS are made.
The short story finished and available, I can now move on. Back to writing more about “1806.” Have a good weekend (those still exist, I believe) wherever you are staying at home in the world. 🙂