I recently attended a wake for a high school classmate who passed suddenly and way too young. As often happens, the wake became a bit of a reunion with other old friends and dredged up memories good, bad, and potentially litigious.
Later, I thought I could probably write up a short story inspired by the experience. So many scenes could be played: conversations with old classmates in the receiving line; meeting the widower and his sons; waiting for old friends outside the funeral home; drinks and storytelling afterward. Presumably, almost any adult could relate to the situation.
Of course, the universality of the situation has its appeal, but it also is a trap. It's too easy to retell the same story that everyone knows, to scrape the dirt off the same old bones, so to speak. Then again, perhaps you use the death of a friend as part of a novel in which the protagonist is propelled further to some epiphany. It might even be believable if written well.
But doesn't it all seem a bit too convenient? Not the death of my friend, of course. That's a family in the midst of real pain and sorrow. I imagine being the child whose parent died during the summer and starting high school without that rock you took for granted to keep you stable. What if the child's parents had been living apart and now the school year starts in a place with no established friends. What was the relationship between the parent and the child during the separation, and how has it changed?
As writers, we wade through story ideas most every day. Sometimes we pick a shiny one up right away, but more often they wash over us without our ever realizing it. Only later, usually when we're writing, do we net a few of their larvae in the shoals of our subconscious mind and help them germinate into a flash of inspiration. And we often never know who to thank for those ideas, those "sudden" glimpses of what is possible.
What inspires you? Do you memorialize your past, present, and future "yous" and those who've walked with you along the way?
Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published Battery Brothers, a YA novel by Steven Carman about a pair of brothers playing high school baseball and about overcoming crippling adversity. In December, EBP will publish Billy Bobble Makes a Magic Wand by R.S. Mellette. Matt also blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68.