between the lines: fiction from real life stories

Last week I started the first in a new group of stories. I’m liking how small projects both seem (and are proving to be) attainable goals as I’m finishing up my first short story anthology. Shifted Visions, will be released in 2015 but I’m already under way with the beginnings of another collection as well.

The new group is very loosely based on family anecdotes. I know, it sounds boring, right? But I decided to just let fiction reign and so while they’re founded on a few factual details, the stories have taken precedence… and I’m working hard to make sure they’re worthwhile!

The first one in the group surprised me. It showed me it really is possible to let real-world details provide inspiration but let the imagination take over (and dig deep) for something even more rich. I hadn’t realized, until I sat down with the premise, that I had anything to write about having lived in Thailand over twenty-five years ago. Originally, I thought I shouldn’t set the story there – would I do the culture and the people justice? Could I carry off a story set both in a time (1950s) and a place (north central Thailand) that I’m really not profoundly familiar with? But that was what the story demanded and I accepted the challenge.

I’m pleased with the story in its first draft form and I think it succeeded in turning an off-hand comment said to me by my host-grandmother into a well developed story about a family able to give generously to each other even in a difficult time.

My year in Thailand was incredibly trying for me – and I imagine, for those around me – as I flailed about with the language and in a milieu of cultural practices and assumptions I was completely oblivious to at best, and unable to comprehend at worst. In all honesty, it was a terrible year. Even thinking about it now brings up a residue of all the awkward and embarrassing situations I was in, all the ways I felt like I was screwing up, felt constantly observed in my failings, and stood outside any sense of 20141214_101909belonging. All while trying to smile.

So, the fact that I wrote a tender little story about a Thai girl and her brother – and a bicycle – makes me really happy and I think: maybe that year wasn’t a total bust after all.

I don’t have any of my journals from my time there (one was conveniently “lost” by someone in my host family, the other I threw away in frustration over all the things I couldn’t write in it because I knew it was likely to be read) – so over the years details have lost their sharpness and the observations I made about the country and the people have receded. Only they haven’t, quite, and they show up in the story.

I thought it would be nice to spice up this post with a few photos of Thailand, so I looked through what I have and out of a grand total of one hundred and forty-three pictures, all of poor quality, there weren’t any that look like they describe anything in my story.

🙁

So, instead I leave you with my on-the-spot awkwardness and smiles (that’s me, front far left. With coconuts.).

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And a Santa Claus (awkwardly smiling) to fit the season.20141214_101828

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