I attended an Open Mic Night event at a nearby coffee house the last Friday night and as it was the day after Veterans Day, I decided to read one of my short stories that is a salute to combat nurses. The story is set on the morning of the Tet Offense in Vietnam.
It is one of a few stories that even though I’ve written them can still choke me up and so reading it was a bit of a challenge. After the evening performances were over, the winner of our door prize walked over to the table. He told me the story really took him back. I didn’t know what to say.
I wasn’t sure whether to be flattered or ashamed.
As a writer’s job is to “take you there” and get you to see the story unfold. But what if it’s someplace the hearer or reader doesn’t want to go? Well, he didn’t call me a rotten SOB and shook my hand. So, I finally decided it was a compliment.
I was not at Chu Lai. I wrote from research and accounts from combat nurses who served in Afghanistan. The story of a wounded Marine and an eerie supernatural utterance at his passing was fiction. The names of the characters and their actions were pure figments of my imagination. The details woven around them were not.
I used to love to point out to my children the oft-repeated words of Judge Judy that if something doesn’t make sense, it’s a lie or something closely resembling that. A fiction writer is a liar and his/her story loses its luster when you can see the lie too clearly.
A lot of the stories I write take place somewhere that I have lived or visited. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I can be lazy and a setting I know takes less research than one to which I have never been. I know the trees and animals of the Olympic Peninsula, the Sierra Nevada foothills, and western Oklahoma.
The second is because I like to have readers ask me, “Was that really___ in your story? I think the setting for Blood Moon will be recognized by the people who live there. That’s fun and a tip of my hat to the people who have been my neighbors.
Writing about places I’ve not been to like Vietnam, Israel, or Louisiana is more difficult, but sometimes the story demands it. It’s okay because I have a vivid imagination and sometimes, I just love the challenge. Write what you know only goes so far. After that write what you want to know.