Thursday, May 27, 2010

More Memories

Here are some more snippets of memories which might spark a short story or two, or be placed in a longer one. See what you think.

Visiting Jackson State Park north of Kewanee and, finding an interesting picnic area, spent several visits building a sort of lean-to with tree branches scattered about. That structure became the basis of a story idea for me. I wrote a novelette that one day I might get back to, clean it up, submit it somewhere. Who knows?

While living in Kewanee, I made a date with a girl in the Quad Cities, but when I went to pick her up, she had forgotten all about making the date in the first place. (Such is my luck with women. Lol)

Signing my first autograph at a business convention while working for the Kewanee radio station.

Almost crashing the radio station car while on an icy highway heading for a basketball game.

Faking it during football games sportscasts, as if I knew anything about football.

Remembering my two faux pas during basketball games; I still have the tape of one. My color commentator fell off his chair on the second one. Ask me about them sometime.

Remembering the gorgeous office girl temporarily employed at the radio station. Used to wear mini-skirts to work.

Her replacement – a woman with no sense of humor and an unpleasant odor.

The wonderful mechanic with Parkinson's who repaired the equipment.

Throwing rocks at a rat infested wood pile in downtown Kewanee.

Being the only person in the Kewanee theater on a Thursday night. I even remember the movie – Tremors, with Kevin Bacon.

Changing the tire on my Chevette after it had gone flat. That morning the temp had dropped to -22.

Leaving a note on a pretty girl's windshield. She never responded. (Such is my luck with women. Lol)

I remember Kewanee's water was light yellow in color. Tasted awful and turned my whites grey.

Upsetting the downstairs neighbor by constantly running up and down the metal stairs to my apartment. (At least that hasn't changed; I still run up and down the stairs.)

The last day of work at the radio station, waiting for the boss to show up to give me my paycheck. She had been gone all day and didn't show up until 5:15. She took it from her middle desk drawer, held it to me and said, “I'll bet you're looking for this.” I grabbed my check, said thank you, and bolted from the building, never to return.

I don't know why this set of memories dealt with my almost two years in Kewanee, Illinois, the self purported 'Hog Capital of the World'. The first one crossed my mind and I just kept going. I remember going to concerts of a couple of country stars; loving the sportscasting; loving the job and some of the co-workers. I only left because I had my morning shift taken away from me.

However, Kewanee was the place I started seriously on my writing. Yes, I'd written stories and journals before, but when I started the one inspired by the lean-to, that was the beginning. A few years later, I started on the first draft of Alpha, the one I'm currently rewriting.

One last memory from Kewanee...During a two or three month period, I spent an agonizing time stopping by a certain person's house wanting to talk, then writing a letter to that person. It's been over twenty years and that person has never responded.

Such is my luck, no? Oh well...might make a good story some day.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The age old question

Answer: Look around you.
Question: From where do you get your story ideas?

Our lives are full of stories. Little snippets we view every day could, possibly, be turned into short stories, or, with a little time and effort, full novels. Here are a few examples out of my life.

Across a couple of parking lots from the motel where I work is a car wash. It's where they put together the Des Moines Register late at night for morning local distribution. I hear clanking and shuffling every night. Several cars drive up, stay for a few minutes, then leave. I see only shadows and vague figures and hear occasional voices. My mind imagines what is REALLY going on over there. With all of the cars and the activity...Drug distribution? Something else? And why don't the cops ever patrol over there? Are they in on the nefariousness?

I know a family who until recently (and who knows since we're pretty much out of touch these days), could have had their lives portrayed upon the small screen in a soap opera. Every time I heard news of the next scandal, it amazed me. And just like a soap, the drama continued into the next couple of generations.

My apartment building, ever since I moved in eight years ago, has had a good turnover rate of tenants. And every one of them, other than the elderly lady downstairs who died a few years ago, has been a criminal in some form. Felon, drug dealer, drug user, statutory rape, embezzler. Even the landlord has been arrested and gone through his share of troubles. Can you imagine the possible stories?

At the motel where I work I see scads of unique individuals who have potential to become characters in stories. I loved watching one particular family a few years ago. The mother was slouched in the overstuffed lobby chair, relaxed, maybe with one leg over the arm of the chair; one daughter was serene and quiet and the other was prim and proper sitting on the very edge of the couch. Then there was the Mennonite man, his wife and daughter. He sat at the table, arms crossed, while the wife served and every time she'd say something he'd say, “What?” so she'd have to repeat it. Truck drivers, golfers, college students, race fans/drivers, Vermeer ag machine dealers, target shooting competitors. Listening to their stories can be quite enlivening.

“Yeah, and he showed up at the site two hours early, and has to just sit there. I heard he came in the previous night and immediately went out to the bar. You know he was hungover when he got behind the wheel.”

“Well Bob, I use the Hornet D5 Max’s, but I heard you don’t have to de-burr the flash hole. The Lyman ain’t as good as the RCBS; they’re too sensitive to florescent lights.”

“And I told the guy, don't stick your hand in there; don't even mess with that. You think he listened? Next day, he 'bout lost all his fingers.”

“And one trip, I hauled a load of television sets from Utah to Maryland. Hail and thunderstorms all the way.”

“Then coming back to the motel, we lost our way and ended up leading the wedding party all the way to the park. Isn't that funny?”

Open your ears, open your eyes and you will be amazed and amused by what happens around you. Catch it quick, jot it down or have a wonderful memory. See if some little scene in your daily life could be turned into a story.

From where do stories originate? Well, the fiction comes from the creative mind of the writer. The fiction is influenced by a lot of truth from the real world.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The Time Grows Short

As I am writing this, the lilac bush in my front yard is almost done with its season. Half the blooms are gone; the purple has taken on a darker hue. I wish the lilac season would last longer than a month. By the time you read this, there will be nothing left except small purple nubs.

Some things don’t last too long and maybe, by design or accident, that’s why they have so much sentimental value and why we have to enjoy them in the short period of time they’re around.

Lilacs. Girl Scout cookies. The roly-poly nature of puppies and kittens. That little window of spring where you have warm temps, no insects and the crops aren’t out of the ground yet. The time when the sky stays light up to nine or ten o’clock. The time at Christmas spent with family. A sunny open weekend to do whatever. A good book. A scented candle. (Yes, I know you can just go buy another one, but work with me here.)

At the time of this writing, I plan on seeing my nieces this weekend. They will have changed so much in the couple of months since last I’ve seen them. My grandparents weren’t around nearly long enough and I’m amazed at how much time has passed each time I think how long they have been gone.

Of course, some things last too long and the value is gone. I cite sports’ seasons for example. Opening day baseball – great. By the time the end of October and the beginning of November rolls around, I’m wondering why those idiots are still out there freezing their butts off. 162 games? Seriously, way too many. Basketball season, hockey season. There was talk last year of extending the football season. And I don’t think soccer season ever ends. I like all of these (well, can’t say I watch hockey or soccer too much), but when fall rolls around, I want to switch gears away from baseball and I want my football. As soon as I find out the Cubs and the White Sox aren’t going to be in the series (which is an annual occurrence, except for the Sox a few years ago), I’m sorry, I stop caring about baseball. And I can’t get into college or pro basketball till nearly the playoffs.

However, did it seem to you that this year’s March Madness playoffs were over in no time? Some years I know they drag on, but this year, zip, a couple of weeks and you’re done.

Some things last too long anyway. This last winter was excruciatingly, exasperatingly maddeningly long. This last year’s season reaffirmed why I despise Iowa winters and will move in a heartbeat if given the chance. Not that I don’t love the people around here; the people and my students did not create over five months’ worth of crap, but those sunny beaches of Florida, Georgia, Alabama and the warmth and seafood of Louisiana really looked inviting. This summer I vow not to complain no matter what the thermometer reads. Bring it on!

Some TV shows have been around past their prime. Survivor and Idol for example. However, sign me up for another twenty years of Law and Order and CSI. At least Mom and I will have something to watch together.

What’s the point of this post? Come to think of it, I don’t know. I just noticed the lilac bush had lost some of its bloom and wished I could enjoy it a few weeks longer. Sentimental fool am I.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Simply Alarming

I remember one day in high school, walking through the halls, I caught part of a conversation between two boys. I don't remember who they were, but after the subsequent incident, I put their words into the proper context. The two boys were discussing pulling the fire alarm as a prank and a few minutes into the next class, the alarm went off. As was our practiced routine, every student and teacher trooped outside and waited until the all clear was given.

I don't know how many fire alarm drills we went through during my school years. Every time, we all knew it was coming; we all knew it was a drill and although most of rolled our eyes at yet another drill, we were cool with anything interrupting class.

However, during the prank, I recall everyone being very orderly with no one panicking. I'm glad there was never a real thing but I would hope, if there had been, things would have been okay because of all those drills we endured.

I take an infrequent break from blogging about writing to discuss alarms. Alarms mean something, even when the problem turns out to be a non emergency. We've all had the smoke alarm in our house beep when we've burnt the toast or, as in my case, too much steam from boiling water or meat smoking in the oven. It always scares me when I first hear it, but usually, I know what the problem is.

A couple of years ago I was trapped in Walmart after they had a Code Black, which is a tornado warning. They directed everyone to the center of the store. Patrons could leave, but they couldn't check out at the cash register. I joked that the reason we all gathered in one spot was not for safety but so that all our bodies would be in one place to find. Yeah, stupid joke, but it relieved some of the tension. But, the point is, Walmart has a policy and it works. Luckily, the tornado went south of us, but for 45 minutes we waited and wondered.

A little over a week ago, I'm trying to finish up night audit at the motel when the fire alarm starts blaring. Scared the crap out of me because I had never before heard it. I've had the power go out which is always annoying, but never the fire alarm. Immediately, the three fire doors lost their magnetic hold and closed. I managed to get the alarm shut off before going deaf. I called 911; the police came out, then the fire department. We tromped all over and all around the motel and didn't find a thing wrong. We put it down to a glitch in the system our manager needs to look into.

What I found interesting, was that out of the 25 rooms we had sold that evening, only about six guests poked their noses out of the door wondering about the alarm. Only one man actually walked outside with no inducement. As I said, nothing was wrong and I assured everyone it was only a glitch (since the alarm went off again about three hours later). But I was distressed that only six guests even bothered to open their doors. The rest ignored the alarm. I've had more people come down and wonder about the bad weather sirens in town than respond to a fire alarm loud enough to drown out jet engines.

Even more amazing were two guests who came down to breakfast the next morning and discussed the fire alarm. Both had decided to ignore it, even though one related a story of how he ignored a previous alarm in a Minneapolis motel while the real fire blazed in the room above his.

Please, please, please, do not ignore alarms. Yes, usually there will be no problem but you never know. I ran all over the motel trying to track down smoke or flames and ready to beat on the room doors to get everyone out if necessary. I worry about my cigarette smoking neighbors and whether one morning, I'll come back to a pile of ashes that was my apartment building.

While living in my previous apartment, I hated when they conducted the monthly test on the weather sirens (mainly because the damn thing was forty yards out my back window and they always tested it at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning when I was trying to sleep). But I'm glad they did because when bad weather struck, it kept everyone informed.

Take the time to check out the problem, inquire as to why an alarm is sounding. Weather, fire, smoke, even a simple car alarm. Something is wrong, either a glitch in the system or a real emergency. Make sure you can laugh and joke about the former and not suffer the latter.