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.

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