The story garden
(Note: This is a slightly modified version of a pair of posts which appeared at BloggerDad.com in December. However, I feel that it deserved a spot here, where creativity is the main course of the day and conversation flows like coffee. Plus it will shed some light on the back story to Available Darkness.)
“I am a man, and men are animals who tell stories. This is a gift from God, who spoke our species into being, but left the end of our story untold. That mystery is troubling to us. How could it be otherwise? Without the final part, we think, how are we to make sense of all that went before; which is to say, our lives?
So we make stories of our own, in fevered and envious imitation of our Maker, hoping that we’ll tell, by chance, what God left untold. And finishing our tale, come to understand why we were born.”
~Clive Barker – from the novel Sacrament
When I was 18, I worked the midnight shift as a cashier at a tiny gas station.
It wasn’t a convenience store/gas station hybrid that is commonplace these days. It was just an unremarkable gas station where many of my dreams were born.
My job consisted mostly of staying awake, alone in an eight by 18 foot box. The front end was the cashier’s booth. A door led to the back room which served as the storage room/restroom and the location of the safe which only the manager had access to. There was only one door leading in and out of the gas station. And it opened outward, not in.
The glass was bulletproof, or so I was told. I almost found out first hand, but that’s a story for another time. Other than gas, we sold vices – cigarettes, chips and candy, all which I placed into a drawer and slid to customers on the other side of the glass.
I had a lot of time on my hands. Time to think. Time to dream. Time to write.
My imagination amped to 10, story ideas flooded my senses.
I wrote several scraps of stories during the four year span which followed. I say scraps because I never completed any of them. A lot of the ideas were crap I have long since forgotten. But there were also seeds for what will someday be Great Works of Fiction!
I planted these story seeds with love, carefully cultivated them with extensive notes, character biographies and back stories.
I never went to work without my story seeds, stuffed into a large brown, weathered expanding file folder bound by a brown cord. I carried this folder in a backpack as I rode my bicycle (and sometimes walked) five miles each way to work. The folder was a beast to lug around, but I never left home without my seeds. I never knew when inspiration would allow me time to tend to my story garden.
Somehow, during the passage of years, I lost track of this batch of seeds.
I had moved on to other interests. I had my first serious relationship. I had my first serious breakup. I moved out of my parents’ house and into an apartment. I was in my 20’s and life was changing rapidly.
While my story garden overgrew with weeds, I still visited from time to time, if in spirit only.
I hadn’t seen the folder in more than 14 years. Some of the stories were merely fading memories, ghosts threatening to be forever exiled to purgatory.
Several months ago, my mother called to tell me that she had found something of mine while she was going through boxes of junk.
It was the folder. My story seeds.
It was bulky and tattered, but still bound by its threadbare cord which invited me to unwrap it and to step back into my garden.
It had been 14 years since I’d been into that garden. Weeds and thick roots twisted underfoot while many of the trees had grown wild, blotting out the sky. Still other trees were merely skeletal remains of what had been.
With a bit of time and love, I hoped to nourish the garden back to life.
The folder contains four stories immediately worthy of taking root and several saplings which could someday be something beautiful.
I’d love to guide you through the garden and point out the flora, but it‘s not quite ready. There is much work to be done, new seeds to plant. And to be honest, telling you about these stories would take away from the thrill of bringing them to fruition.
There is one old story, I’m ready to talk about, though. It’s a vampire story, of sorts. A man wakes up half naked, bloodied and left for dead inside a coffin. Oh yeah, he has no memory of anything prior to waking up. Who is he? Who left him for dead? What happened to him? What will happen?
I spent nearly three years on this tale and the story took many surprising turns and twists as it revealed itself to me.
“You come out at night that’s when the energy comes and the dark side’s light and the vampires roam.”
Sarah McLachlan – Building a Mystery
I was building a mystery. Actually, I was building a vampire-like mythology. A far-reaching tale unlike the standard vampire fare. One that will stretch across several novels (though I envisioned the story more as a television series when I started).
The only problem with the story is that I haven’t had the proper time to devote to it. I’ve been writing another book, working on this blog and working on my comics. I have more ideas than time. I was going to let it sit in the garden a while longer. But then something happened.
Thanks to my blogging, I met the perfect writing partner.
I consider myself fairly humble. I’m a writer, but I definitely see the shortcomings in my own work, I do have an artist’s ego. I have a story to tell and I don’t want another artist tinkering with it.
As I mentioned before, Sean Platt and I have worked on a few things together in recent months. In our standard working arrangement, he handles the writing and I handle the graphics. During the past few months, we’ve collaborated increasingly more on writing – checking and sometimes editing each other’s work and offering suggestions. Our strengths and weaknesses seem to compliment each other perfectly.
One day we got to talking about serialized fiction and how much we enjoyed reading it back in the day.
I’d always wanted to present something in the format. Sean was equally excited by the prospect. That’s when I thought about the folder – I had a perfect story waiting in the garden.
I sent Sean the first mini-chapter of my vampire story. It was a rough, ROUGH edit. Something I wrote late at night just to get the ball rolling. When I woke the next morning, Sean had turned my rough draft into polished prose.
And it gave me chills!
My first instinct was, damn, he wrote this better than I did. A bit of artistic jealousy flared up, I’ll admit. But that feeling subsided quickly because it’s Sean, someone I’ve come to know, like, trust and respect during the past few months.
It’s a good working relationship – the kind I never imagined a year ago.
More importantly, he gets the story, gets what I am trying to do, is open to my re-edits and is reading the story as I provide the chapters – first as a reader, then as a writer before working his own magic. And it is magic, as this story might not have seen the light of dawn for several more years if I hadn’t met someone who I trust as much as Sean to help me bring it to life.
And I’m thrilled to be sharing the magic with you each week.
Community discussion: Tell us about your collaborative experiences. Have you met anyone through the web which has worked with you or helped make you a better writer?
Speaking of good stories, there’s just THREE DAYS left to enter our contest to win a free premium Thesis WordPress Theme and other prizes like some assistance writing great copy!