Some Stories Choose You as a Writer

“Don’t you think some stories choose you?” I was asked this question after expressing my frustration with readers’ questions about why I wrote a book about a military family. So many people assume that the main character is me–that I was once married to a soldier. However, reading and listening informed me more than my personal experience.

I’ve read War/Military fiction since I was in junior high. Much later, I began writing the novel, Multiple Exposure. I began writing without realizing my personal influences on the work. If I consider only one branch of my own family tree, I can begin in the Revolutionary War with my great-great-great-great grandfather, Jeremiah Brown, who served in the North Carolina Militia. In that tradition, many of my relatives have served and do serve in almost all branches of the military.

But, it’s more than that. I’ve met soldiers and found myself listening for hours to details about many aspects of daily life during wars, skirmishes, the waiting, the wanting, and more. I’m often completely surprised by the disclosures and don’t expect them. My husband’s grandfather, Glen, gifted me with his story, and I wasn’t aware that he had been a soldier, even though I had been writing letters to him for about five years. Glen was awarded a Purple Heart for his service during WWII. I met Glen for the first time on my wedding day, and after that, I wrote many letters to him. He enjoyed my stories, and even though I tried my best to get him talking, Glen wasn’t a man of many words. He appreciated my letters about college and our new home in Memphis, our time in the Netherlands, and our struggles to find work after college. The last time I saw him, we went to a Mexican restaurant and drank a big pitcher of margaritas. I was having doubts about becoming a “real writer”. That’s when Glen told me that I could do anything and not to let people hold me back, and then he told me more about his life than my husband had ever known. He described what it was like to get shot in WWII, and how he didn’t realize it at first. He chuckled, and said, “The book in my pocket saved my life. Very small book, but it saved my life.” That book turned out to be a Bible. I don’t think it was complete, but maybe one of those “half” Bibles–The New Testament with Psalms and Proverbs. I quickly noticed that most of his stories were loaded with symbolism like that–little, but weighted. They contained heft.

I’ve applied his metaphor over and over… until, in my own mental story realm, that small book is ragged, creased, and over-used. Though, he was correct. The small books save my life. They save me from boredom, fear, and anxiety. The small books inspire me with their raw truth and courage. I made a promise to myself to write about war with consideration for how inconsiderate the very idea of war is in our lives. And when considerations are maintained in war procedures, it doesn’t seem possible that considerate humans could still be at war, which means killing one another, among other activities. With that promise and those considerations in my heart, Multiple Exposure wasn’t an easy book to write. The story definitely chose me one scene at a time along the way.

On this 4th of July, Many Thanks to soldiers who serve honorably. My gratitude goes to their families.

To read more about war/military fiction offerings, visit

2 thoughts on “Some Stories Choose You as a Writer

  1. I like this very much, Shana. My dad shared his WWII story with me the week we buried my sister in 2005. But also your thoughts on how a story finds you reminds of the the TED-Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, which I watched recently and I quote below what definitely stayed with me and which so matched what you say above:

    “I had this encounter recently where I met the extraordinary American poet Ruth Stone, who’s now in her 90s, but she’s been a poet her entire life and she told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, “run like hell.” And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it “for another poet.” And then there were these times — this is the piece I never forgot — she said that there were moments where she would almost miss it, right? So, she’s running to the house and she’s looking for the paper and the poem passes through her, and she grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her, and then she said, it was like she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail, and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards, from the last word to the first.”

    Happy 4th.


    • Thank you, Bea! I appreciate your comment and the quote from Elizabeth Gilbert. I definitely relate to Ruth Stone’s feeling about being chased down by a story. While I was writing Multiple Exposure, I literally started running–trails and races–so that I could relate to the main character who trains for a marathon. I ran to solve story dilemmas and to break writer’s block. Now, I’m addicted to running and writing the stories while I run. Like Ruth, sometimes the story chases me down and I hurry home so that I don’t forget it. Thanks, again, for the comment. Hope you had a wonderful 4th!

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