A story that only you can tell

A couple weeks ago Oscar Hokeah blogged about a feeling he had that there was a story that he had to write, that only he could write. I drafted my immediate reaction to this, but found I was writing two different thought processes and both were overlong for a comment. (Besides, I wanted to come back later, to get some distance, and comments seem best if done as a quick response.) So here is one of my thoughts on this question.

A story that only you can tell. That could be true in two ways. Could be a story that only you know. Could be a story that only you can write. Either or both could be true.

If you were alone, the only human present, then only you know the story.

If other people were present but you alone were aware of a salient aspect of the story, only you know the story that covers that aspect.

If you welcome a story from your imagination, only you know the story.

However, some other people have similar stories, maybe a lot of people. Maybe tons of people. So what really counts is that you are a writer. Not a court reporter, nor a stenographer. Furthermore, for YOUR story, you are THE writer.

If you or I wrote a story about long line fishermen who go out to the Grand Banks and die in a storm, neither of us would write A Perfect Storm. Each of us would create a different cast of characters, even if only difference in nuance. Only Sebastian Junger could write the story he wrote.

If you or I wrote about Navajo Tribal Police officers, we wouldn’t write the same stories as Tony Hillerman. Not if we were true to our own voices. Not even if we consciously copied; we could only imitate.

You can write any story and it is your story. Only you will write your stories. You might start with someone else’s life or experience, or just an idea. Once you begin writing, the story is yours. You are expressing your life experience and your craft as a writer, using that wonderful, strange engine of creativity, your subconscious.

Any story becomes a different story in another writer’s hands. “Write what you know” means write what your subconscious knows. Did Mark Twain know riding a raft down the Mississippi with a black man escaping slavery? His subconscious did. Did Ray Bradbury know life on Mars? His subconscious did. Your subconscious knows a lot of things that don’t show up in your external reality. It’s all realized in your subconscious, and you can take us readers along for the ride.

Write the story. Write your story.


Homicide School for Writers

In August I attended Sgt. Derek Pacifico’s Homicide School for Writers. Sgt. Pacifico is a patrol supervisor and former homicide detective, a 21-year-veteran with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department. He trains homicide detectives across the country.
Sgt. Pacifico culled a fantastic two-day seminar from the two-week course his gives to cops. It was informative, fast-paced, and a lot of fun. Thanks Derek!
We learned how cops become cops and get trained. How they become detectives. Radio codes and channels. How cops talk. How they manage crime scenes. How to interpret blood spatter and tire tracks. Plus many other types of evidence found at any crime scene, including homicides and some that to the untrained eye might seem like homicides but are not.
The slideshow included lots of photos and illustrations from actual cases and a few from police training scenarios created by Sgt. Pacifico so cops could walk through and get quizzed on what they had learned.
So we got training usually only given to homicide detectives. Only two percent of cops are homicide detectives. So 98 percent of cops don’t know the specialized homicide stuff in that course. We can definitely keep it more real as we write our stories, both fiction and nonfiction.
Sgt. Pacifico covered some keys to getting homicide confessions. Another course for writers will go in depth into interview and interrogation techniques. To find out about this fast approaching October 6th seminar, visit Sgt. Pacifico’s website:
Discount early bird price is available through this Friday, so check out the course right away.
Inspired by the Homicide course, I did what Albert Einstein called a thought experiment:
Can you tell which curved tire tracks are from the front tires and which from the rear tires? I can after taking Sgt. Pacifico’s course, and remembering that this week I was able to solve a mystery: Why does car sickness effect passengers more than drivers?
The driver is on the outside of a right turn and will feel the centrifugal force, so they’ll slow down when they feel the discomforting torque. A left turn is different: the driver is on the inside of a left turn; the person riding shotgun is on the outside of a left turn, so they travel a longer distance in the same amount of time – they get whipped around.
People in the backseat follow the front passengers and they get jerked into the turn late and more abruptly, like a wild mouse ride at a carnival. So the shotgun and rear seats really do shake up passengers more than the driver, and this compounds the gap between the driver’s control and anticipation and the passengers’ lack of both.

A New Challenge Stimulates

I visited an emergency room early last week. As a patient.

While washing dishes I broke a ceramic bowl. One instant I was holding the bowl; the next instant I was holding my wounded hand, gashed palm pumping out blood.

I got lucky in two ways. A plastic surgeon that specializes in hands walked through the emergency room, saw me elevating me newly bandaged hand, and examined me. Dr. Omar Ahmed let me know the other way I was lucky: I just missed cutting the major nerve in the hand and one of the two arteries that supply the hand. If I had nicked the nerve, Doc said, “I would be digging in you for quite a while tonight [to do repairs], and your hand would never fully recover.” My heartfelt thanks, Dr. Ahmed, for cleaning and sewing me up, as well as buoying my spirit and answering all my questions.

For a couple of days I couldn’t do a thing with that hand but keep it elevated and dry. I spent most of the next day in bed. Writing longhand was no option all week. Typing came back quicker, but I do it carefully. This has renewed my interest in voice recognition software, which a grant writer recommended for productivity back in the spring.

Although I took my outpatient hospital visit as an opportunity to do research – every experience is a chance for a writer to gather material – it took me aback in terms of writing. Then it took me onward. I had taken for granted my physical abilities, once again. Just removing the child-proof cap on my antibiotics is a major challenge one-handed.

This obstacle to writing is not an obstacle at all, just a hindrance. The real obstacle was my inertia. The real challenge is my desire, my commitment.

I soaked up knowledge and experiences this summer and took a decent amount of notes, but I owe it to my readers and myself to put more into this blog and toward finishing my novel. This reminded me, in a smaller way than some occasions, of my mortality. I have larger challenges that are more important and I decide if and when I take up those challenges.

I’ll be hosting a one-day writing workshop in Los Angeles on September 24th led by Bruce Gelfand, an excellent coach of writers, be they poets, novelists, or memoirists. Send me an email for details.