Monday, October 05, 2009

What writers can learn from friendly turkeys and family reunions

Our neighbors have a pet turkey. Turkeys make better pets than you might think. This one is rather amusing to watch. He pecks around the yard, talking and garbling and intent on making friends with everything in sight. Unfortunately my dogs are not nearly as congenial with him as he is with them.

The other day while trying to enjoy a leisurely walk with the dogs, the turkey caught sight of us and ran out to greet us. While he saw potential friends, my dogs saw an early Thanksgiving dinner. As my husband and I tried to deter the turkey and keep my Lab from latching her jaws around his straggly turkey neck, my fingers became entangled in the retractable leash. If you’ve ever used a retractable leash, you know why they come with labels warning against getting your legs or fingers near the rope. The fingers of my left hand are seared top to bottom with rope burns that made writing nearly impossible all weekend.

The pain has subsided for the most part and I have mobility back in my digits. But Saturday and Sunday were a wash as far as accomplishing much with my writing. Losing a weekend writing and figuring out how to someday work a turkey encounter into a novel made me realize once again how inspiration can strike at the most unlikely times.

Sometimes a writer need go no farther than his front yard for ideas. Saturday before the turkey attack, we attended a family reunion. A niece talked with me about whether or not her boyfriend would propose and what she would say if he did. She loves the guy, and is pretty sure he’s the one, but what if she’s wrong. A husband and wife spent the whole time sniping at each other and drawing unwanted attention. I overheard a conversation about a cousin who disappeared about forty years ago. The family finally tracked her down in another state a decade or so back. She has children of her own and a life none of us know anything about. She emphatically stated she did not want contact from anyone in the family. Someone whispered about rumors of “incest” and knowing glances were passed around the table. The conversation quickly shifted to layoffs and unemployment and of family members who had died since the last reunion.

I’ve heard it said the best way to repair the sagging middle of a novel is to throw in a dead body. Since that scenario doesn’t work for every piece of fiction, you may want to pay attention to what the old folks talk about at the next reunion, wedding, or funeral. Or just walk your dogs around the neighborhood and see what kind of exotic pet captures their attention.

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