Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Story ideas

From the New York Times this morning, this snippet:

The village was established by the Australian government in 1948, without the consent of the people who would inhabit it. The native affairs branch of the federal government, concerned about overcrowding and drought in Yuendumu, forcibly removed 550 people to what would become Lajamanu. At least twice, the group walked all the way back to Yuendumu, only to be retransported when they arrived. 

What the article doesn't mention is the distance: some 400 kilometers (250 miles).

This kind of thing makes me wish I was a novelist. I think there's an amazing story to be told about what happened here.

Do you ever get ideas for books from little things like this?


Michael Seese said...

Melissa Flashman once posted a Tweet referencing this article (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/29/fashion/weddings/leaving-a-spouse-behind-for-good.html?pagewanted=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1373973511-CDmH/Y%20EQSCOYGDLctJiNg), and added that anyone working on such a thing should CALL her. I took that as a challenge (much like the American Library in Paris Book Award that you suggested) and started writing about a man who treks along the Wall with his four-year-old son. I'm at about 20k words.

Unknown said...

Newspapers are rife with corruption, injustice and other malfeasance that are splendidly inspiring. The challenge is locking in on the gems that resonate with who you are and what you cannot help but write about.

Reading the paper in the morning reminds me of the movie "UP"-- the part when the dogs get distracted each time they hear the word "squirrel".

Your story had that exact effect on me - except it triggered another similar story.


Dina Desveaux

dylan said...

Dear Ms. Reid

One of my all time favorite movies is "Rabbit-Proof Fence", which concerns the Oz governments forcible removable of half-caste children from their Aboriginal mothers and relocation to government camps, pending distribution to white families in need of household slaves and sex toys. The movie tells the true story of three little girls, aged 14, 10, and 8, who decided to escape walk home. 1500 miles.

Absolutely heartbreaking, beautifully realized film. dylan

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

To answer your question, hell yes.

For some time I have grappled with a twist on a headline but have hesitated to develop it because of regular writing-gig commitment to deadline, plus full time job and ...well you know. Too bad agents and publishers don’t take on proposals for fiction. But I figure, why not commit to the whole thing, so I posted about this just yesterday. Like they say up here in lotto-land, “you can’t win if you don’t play”. So heads up, from the front-page to your desk as a query, when it’s finished.

JeffO said...

Absolutely. One of the ideas that I started (but never finished; it just wasn't quite right at the time) came about because of two different news events, plus an NPR interview.

nightsmusic said...

I watched a When Weather Changed History special on the Galveston hurricane at the turn of the century. Sparked a murder mystery/romance and though I don't work on it all the time (the voices in my head have been strangely quiet this past year) I'm still working on it when the characters speak to me. We'll see how it goes...

Rachel Schieffelbein said...

That's very interesting. I couldn't write something like that, but I'd read it!

Janet Reid said...

Dylan, I did watch that movie and I agree with your assessment that it's heartbreaking.

Did you watch the commentary? They show the actors AFTER one of the big grab scenes. All of them were just overwrought, collapsed in sobs. It was almost as emotional as the film itself.

Just thinking about it now makes me reach for the tissue box.

Janet Reid said...

Here's the link Michael Seese posted above.

dylan said...

Dear Ms Reid

Yes, and I also found the commentary as moving and disturbing as the movie itself.

I remember feeling an unsettling ambivalence at the time about the ethics of putting those children through such an emotionally wrenching process in order to do justice to the story, in all its unspeakable bureaucratic cruelty and chauvinism. Oddly I found myself less worried for the younger girls than for the eldest, who seemed to radiate such a mix of bedrock inner strength and inconsolable pain. I still am somewhat on the fence (not rabbit-proof).

I realize that my comment didn't directly address your original question, and that this movie was not a work of fiction based on actual events, but I do believe the film-makers had to draw upon the fiction-writers toolbox to select and present the raw facts as a coherent, dramatic, and satisfying narrative.

There even seemed to be something nearly poetic in having the old tracker played by the same actor, who as a very young man made his debut in another Australian cinematic masterpiece, "Walkabout". The two roles seem to bookend the tragic historical clash of the Aboriginal and colonial cultures.


John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

nightmusic – If you're going to write about the Galveston hurricane, you absolutely must read "Issac's Storm," Erick Larson's brilliant history of the storm and the people who got it all wrong. Pure hubris. Great book and all the background you'll need.

As to the main question: Writers are always asked, "Where do you get your ideas?" The morning paper is as good a source as any. Even if you're writing about fairies and elves or robots or beings from Alpha Centurai, there's plenty of venality and corruption and inhumanity on a daily basis to keep us all busy.

Kim and family said...

When I was a teen I moved to the Kenai Peninsula near a Russian village and was completely confused as to why there was a Russian village with people that wore clothes straight out of a Russian history book. I recently researched the Russian villages and how they came to exist and am now writing a YA novel incorporating what I learned.

They were driven out of Russia for not conforming to the changes in the Russian Orthodox church. They call themselves the Old Believers. They relocated to China and were driven from there as well and moved to places around the world to protect and preserve their religion. Some of them relocated to Oregon but when the youth were influenced by American culture and left, they moved to remote areas in Alaska. They have kept their culture intact and if you were to see how they dress, it's like you crossed the ocean and stepped back in time.

nightsmusic said...

@John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur

I actually started to read it and then life got in the way. I've done a lot of other research involving the hurricane which I find fascinating. But the story is perking and keeps raising its head, so we'll see where it goes.

Janet Reid said...

Kim, I remember the Old Believers when I lived in Oregon. Now I see the Hasidim here in Brooklyn, and it's almost but not quite the same.

LynnRodz said...

I have no shortage of ideas, they keep popping into my mind. Just today as I was making my bed and listening to Sky News on tv, I got another great idea for a story. What I'm lacking is time to write them all.

Melinda Szymanik said...

At the start of World War 2 Poland was shared out between Germany and the USSR according to an agreement signed by Molotov and Ribbentrop. The Red Army occupied eastern Poland and deported more than a million Poles to labour camps, mostly in Siberia. After several years in dreadful conditions the Germans invaded the USSR and the Poles were released to help fight the Nazis while their families were shunted round the southern Soviet states over the next few years before becoming the guests of the British Government in Persia. My Dad was 12 when war broke out in 1939 and he became one of those refugees and it was a huge privilege to write his story (A Winter's Day in 1939). I never fully appreciated what he went through as a youngster until I started writing it down.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

Books or short stories, yes. Sometimes I only need a phrase from the news or from history to get the spark going (Faded Giant, for instance. It's "government code" for a type of nuclear accident [the way Broken Arrow is]).

It's also the kind of stuff that I really wish had been covered in history and/or social studies classes in school. But I assure you, we heard not a breath about Australia. We barely touched upon something like the Trail of Tears, which could be an American corollary?

BP said...

Truth, by nature of course, will always be stranger than fiction! :)

DARN IT BE tho' if writing historical fiction or anything based off of more recent events (READ historical accuracy) isn't a pain in the just all over the place everywhere region.

Gary Corby said...

I was going to mention Rabbit Proof Fence, but Dylan got in first.

That's rough territory, too.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Hey Janet, here’s one for you.
How about George Rapp?
Your western Pennsylvania readers will know about him.
He was the head of a German utopian society called the Harmony Society. Very interesting group of people lead by a man, who it has been said, took part in castrating his adult son. I guess when your followers take on celibacy, and your son gets his own wife pregnant, cutting his balls off is the answer. The story, epic in scope, is about a forward thinking brilliant group with presidential political ties and weird cult-like undertones. I’ve wanted to write about them sense the first time my father told me we were related to old George through his brother John. Celibacy doomed the society, but the story of a man who wielded so much power and the people who worshipped him has always fascinated me.

Some of my family members, have over the past few generations, laid-claim to the societies’ land holdings and some have disappeared during the process of researching that claim. My grandfather always said they got a little too close and made too many people uncomfortable. It’s like DaVinci Code with David Koresh running the show.

Terri Lynn Coop said...

Fascinating stuff.

One of my very first trunkers came out of something I watched when I was a law school intern at the prosecutor's office.

Here's how it basically went down.

1. A bunch of 20-somethings getting stoned, decide to have a seance.

2. One participant leaps up and yells, "it's the old man come back to get me and runs."

3. Next day three kids find a skeleton in a well.

4. One of the party-goers sees the plea for information about who it might be and remembers what the guy said. Calls police.

5. Turns out stoner and his friend beat the old man to death after he discovered that stoner's mom was forging the old guy's Social Security checks and ripping him off. They hid his murder for 6+ months to keep collecting.

6. At trial, mom claims she wasn't the ringleader, but held captive by her evil stoner son.

Can you say, "Murder in the First Degree?" The prosecutor kept the cheesy ruby glass goblet they used as part of the seance on his desk.

In my trunker, the old guy really did come back and helped the prosecution nail the killers, thus proving that sometimes the dead really are your best witnesses.


Anonymous said...

There's an abundance of fodder for writing practically gobsmacking us in the face if we care to look and listen. Sometimes stories come from one sentence, one action, one observation.

I read in the paper a few months back about the first woman pilot here in my hometown. I thought that would make for an interesting story, like another Amelia Earhart sort of thing.

Michelle Kollar said...

All the time! My new favorite nonfiction read that generated fiction thoughts was from Constance Hale's Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch where she talks about how the English language was consider vulgar or "mongrel" before the 14th century. This led me to think about how much I swear everyday and didn't know it. A forbidden language just seemed so intriguing to play with.

MJ O'Neill said...

This happens to me all the time. My latest was an obituary about a 101 year white man who quit his job to save the farms of interned Jap. American's during WWII. If I ever get the itch to write a historical, this is top of my list. I haven't been able to get it out of my head.


Abdourahmane Wane said...

Australian movie Rabbit Tree Fence.

A must see movie about the same topic.

Janet Reid said...

Here's the link to MJ O'Neill's story about Bob Fletcher. Well worth reading.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Katherine - the nearest town for the Lajamanu people. I ran the newspaper there for a couple of years.
Pronunciation was a doozy up there, in my early days I was forever being caught out. For those interested it is pronounced 'large ah marn oo'
There's far too much else to share for a blog comment :)