I recently visited Gibraltar. Gibraltar is a UK territory attached to the south of Spain. The Rock of Gibraltar is home to the Barbary Macaque Apes.
I’m a person who likes a challenge; I crossed the highest, longest suspension bridge in North America, I swam with sharks. But, moreso, I like to explore; I saw a grisly bear in the Yukon, held a Koala in Australia, traversed the catacombs in Paris, etc.
So, I was there on the Rock of Gibraltar to get a peek at both Spain on one side and Africa on the other all the while standing in Europe. Pretty freaking cool.
The apes, which look more like monkeys (and are referred to as such), wander free there. They hang out on the patio of the visitor’s center, play in the trees and bushes, and hang out on the roads.
I did get close enough to one to have a photo. But I know better than to attempt to feed a wild animal. I did see four young women getting their picture taken by a park ranger while they fed one of the adult Macaque’s not far from the “Do Not Feed” sign.
From the visitors’ center, you can hike to other views, other places on the Rock and even all the way down. There’s another shop on the Rock where you can see a cave and buy trinkets, which is what I did. When I travel, I like to buy holiday ornaments for my tree as a remembrance.
I have the Big Ben, the Eiffel Tower, a Santa Star Fish from Hawaii, and even a Santa Chili Pepper from New Mexico to name a few.
I hiked back up to the center to grab some water and lunch before taking the cable car back down to the city.
I’d been warned not to take a big back pack or food with me. The monkeys, they said, will jump on you. I heeded these warnings, had only a small pack/purse and no food.
But approaching the visitors’ center, one of the juveniles (juvenile delinquent!) jumped on my back. I raised my hands in surprise and she bit me. She then opened my bag, took the ornament, and hopped off. (This is the picture of the monkey as it tried to eat my ornament! Thank you, Geoff)
I’m okay. Maybe “attacked” is a strong word, perhaps assaulted is better? She left a dental impression and some scrapes on my hand. Yes, a little blood, swelling, bruising. My doctor is a little vexed with me.
But what does this have to do with writing?
We must challenge ourselves, we must overcome, we must use incidents such as these as inspiration or fodder. I feel all of these adventures make me who I am and my writing what it has become over the years.
I’m not suggesting you put yourself in harm’s way! I am suggesting that once in awhile get out and face your fears, do something new, experiment, explore, learn something new – this will create fresh shifts in your writing (and in yourself)!
The whole incident has me thinking of a half a dozen stories!
I had this image in my head of a father telling his little girls stories to teach them lessons. The stories were about clouds and he sang them in an old fashioned, rhythmic way.
The little girls have images in their heads, familiar sounds from far away and long ago.
But Daddy’s not there. The songs are gone. And a piece of the girls got lost somewhere.
This is what I think of when I think of Life of Clouds.
But the story really has a lot to do with anxiety. So many of our young people experience anxiety and depression – and these girls are suffering.
There’s hope though. Somewhere, there’s always hope.
Family myths are the richest to mine for stories. Family myths are things that a great aunt or uncle might have done, where they may have worked, lives they may – or may not – have lived.
It is rumored that one of my great grandmothers was Hoffa’s ex-girlfriend. Although when we tried to match up the timeline, it didn’t quite match; however, given a few corrections here and there – who knows?! It’s fun to think about.
Another family myth involves my grandfather – even telling the story here feels like I’m giving away secrets about my family, but my grandmother swore to her dying day that the tale was myth.
My grandfather was shot in the back by a police officer. A number of different stories are told as to why he was shot, but the officer stated he was aiming for his legs.
My grandfather was over 6 feet tall. The cop must have been the worst shot in the world if he was aiming at his legs.
My grandmother lived with people creating myths as to why he was shot. She would tell us stories about aunts and cousins who came to her asking for the truth, asking for money, asking for what they believed my grandmother had which caused his death. I was present for one such argument before my grandmother passed of a cousin asking her for the truth before she died. Grandma’s Last Secret is about one of those myths.
I love family myths so much, that I’m planning to write more stories about them. Maybe I’ll write “Hoffa’s Runaway Bride” someday.
All families have secrets. I think that’s why some of us become fiction writers. Maybe, much to our family’s horror.
Secrets released in fiction is like water under pressure – there’s a spurt which resembles something other than what it really is. So, mostly, our family is safe.
Some secrets come to us second hand – the things people told us, what we know of other families, friends, acquaintances. In all honesty, these are my favorites.
The Gold Tooth is an amalgamation of family secrets. These are separate things from different people whispered to me at times, laughed about at other times, assumptions from other people – all mixed up in a writer’s brain to spurt out under the pressure of a story.
My grandmother told me a story in which a mother, in trying to teach her children biggest is not best, used to offer the children unmarked gifts in various sizes. Whoever choose based on the biggest gift didn’t necessarily received the best gift.
A friend told me she’d inherited teeth from an aunt.
Another friend provided details about an uneven and questionable disbursement of a will and trust.
They all mashed together to create this story of a mother who tried to teach her daughters a lesson, protect one, maybe both, by the terms of a her will.
Feel free to tell your secrets to a fiction writer. They’ll never tell the whole truth.
Many years ago, All The Beautiful People was accepted for publication. But, then, as happens sometimes, I got the dreaded letter (yes, that’s how many years ago it was) in the mail stating that they had accepted too many things and something had to be bumped. The editor apologized and said they’d keep it in their files, but I should feel free to submit it elsewhere.
I did so.
A year later, that story was accepted for publication in another journal.
Even another year later, the original journal – with a new editor – wrote me via email and said they’d decided to use All the Beautiful People in their upcoming edition.
I responded that they were welcome to use the story; however, it had been accepted and was scheduled for publication by another journal. The publications would come out about six to nine months apart.
I never heard from that second journal and believed they had removed the story from their journal and their archives.
Six months later, I received a copy of the beautiful journal and my story within its pages. YET – they’d billed the story as a memoir – it was fiction – and they’d cut off the last paragraph.
I was a little embarrassed. The girl in the story does things I would never have never done. I was concerned what readers might think – that this might serve as some sort of legacy I couldn’t live down.
See – with the last paragraph – it could NEVER EVER EVER be mistaken as memoir. I sent off a quick email to tell them these two things.
The editor dashed off a quick and nasty response – that they had published it as received, adding some choice and unprofessional comments. She made it sound as if I’d sent it directly to her and that she hadn’t pulled it from their archives.
I responded with the history of the piece, date sent, date accepted, and by whom, date and reason it was taken out, and by whom, etc.
I received another quick and dirty response. I wish I would have kept that email – misspelled words, inappropriate language, and completely and utterly unprofessional. I decided to look this person up. I then forwarded her emails to her employer.
She had found All The Beautiful People in the other publication – the one which was attributed correctly and published fully – and accused me, in her fancy slang, of lying, cheating the system, and whatever else she felt necessary. Another email I forwarded to those who were really in charge of the journal.
I again responded – with the forward – the series of events that had transpired offering all the original letters, archived in my own files, and the emails, which I had still in my saved box.
I didn’t hear from any of them again. But they did put a tiny little line in an inconspicuous place on their website that the story was mislabeled as memoir and should read fiction.
Now, it could have easily been a little mistake to publish it as memoir; however, again, the last paragraph would have told ANY reader that was wrong. Therefore, the missing last paragraph and the misattribution made me wonder. Still, this problem could have been easily, politely, and professionally handled.
I was shocked to learn that the editor who had acted so poorly was a lecturer at a University and had a book or two to her own credit. I do not believe she continued as the editor after that, but I didn’t bother to check.
I learned two valuable lessons from this experience – KEEP EVERYTHING! and always act like a professional.
Billy Collins (poet) believes we must read to be influenced, and suggests young people mimic their favorite writers in order to develop their skills and to develop their own voice.
I think many young writers do this. It’s a natural form of development.
Other writers are afraid to read when they’re writing; they don’t want to be influenced. I think by the point you develop your own voice, you won’t so easily be influenced.
I think reading Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion was imperative for me to stumble across. I’d never attempted to intimate him – but he took my understanding of writing and voice to a whole new level. The storyline, the use of language, and the originality of his voice was unlike anything I’ve ever read and it blew my mind.
What reading Ondaatje did for me was to help launch my voice and style. I say this because at the time, I was mired in instructors and writers telling me no, no, no. They so strongly believed in their own way of doing things, they didn’t allow other writers to develop in other ways. It was limiting.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again – read far and wide! Do not be afraid of being influenced – open yourself to learning something new!