The Best Story Idea – Dig Deep – Wait for It

Redge and Alice at Home

A best story idea. In my opinion, this is one of those. It’s about two grandkids, an incontinent dog and how I took the path of most resistance. But first, I must own up to something. I’m not a dog person, which could explain why we had three cats and no dog until 3:15 p.m. one December Saturday. The two grandkids began a ten-day stay with us on that date, and ten days with an eight and three-year-old to amuse can be a challenge, which would explain the dog decision, if it hadn’t already been made several weeks before.

Our granddaughter, the eight-year-old, really wanted a dog and reminded us of this regularly, with dog stories, dog stickers, dog drawings and plenty of dog talk. But, what sent her message straight to my heart was Halloween. After several seasons of princess looks, this year she’d insisted on a brown puppy costume with white spots. Right then, I knew we had to get a dog. Three-year-old brother agreed, though he’d have preferred a dinosaur, and that was the source of this Best Story Idea. Meanwhile, I silenced my personal doubts by asking, “How much trouble can a puppy be?”

We set off for PAWS with small pooch intentions and a pet carrier and collar to match. I’d convinced myself all would be well, until the pooch with the most kid appeal turned out to be something other than a small puppy. He was a large, reddish-brown, part-husky mix titled Taylor and, as it happened, the perfect centerpiece for a Best Story Idea . He needed a home, and the grandchildren wanted to give him one. Plus, the trip to the shelter, combined with the pet selection process, had been long and arduous, and, frankly, I was tired. So, I agreed, though I suspected this was not my own Best Story Idea ever.

We put Taylor on hold while we hurried off to buy a dog crate larger than some apartments I’ve lived in. On the way, our granddaughter came up with Redge as a more fitting name. Taylor sounded too aristocratic for a lop-eared, cross-eyed animal of lumbering dimensions. Exactly how lumbering? I tried to measure him once, but Redge thought we were playing Capture the Tape Measure, along with the measurer’s hand. You’ll have to take my word he was a very large dog. You will also have to take my word that he gradually lumbered into my heart.

There are loads of Redge-experience anecdotes, most Best Story Idea material, many having to do with the fact that being cross-eyed caused him to see anything approaching him as an attacker.He lunged a lot, frightened people a lot, including the grandkids, and, when we tried tethering him for a brief moment of peace, he dragged our sizable dining table across the room. The leading dog trainer in the area finally threw up her hands and said, “Maybe you could find him a home in the country.” Eventually we were forced to take her advice.

That should have been the end of this particular Best Story Idea, except I had some self-examining to do. Why had I brought a dog bred to be a natural chaser into a house with three cats? Why had I taken the path of most resistance to adult common sense and good judgment? The truth was I knew the answer to all my Redge dilemma questions. Back on dog-search day, I’d been impatient and tired and eager to be done with the entire scene, so I latched onto the first choice instead of holding out for a better one.

As writers, we too often do the same when we don’t wait for the Best Story Idea. We latch onto the first word or phrase that comes to mind, or the first character quirk, or the first action gambit. We don’t push ourselves deeper into our imaginations in search of the word that most vividly expresses what we need to say, or the character detail that is less a quirk than a revealing motivation, or the plot turn that grows organically from what has already happened but is nonetheless unexpected.

We don’t wait long enough, or think clearly enough, or exercise our brains hard enough. The resulting scenario lumbers across the page, destroys the furniture it should have polished to a patina and, worst of all, disappoints the readers we were supposed to delight and enthrall with our Best Story Idea ever.

Why not write right past our first, most easily available choices to the better ones lurking further down? Then press on even deeper to the best we have in us, the phrase or detail or event that makes a story come alive and dance into our readers’ hearts, without a hint of lumber in its pace along the path toward an extraordinary read. Which is what occurs when we work hard and wait as long as it takes for the Best Story Idea to appear.

As for my previous reference to incontinence, at the same years-ago moment I was writing the first version of this cautionary tale, Redge was peeing on my kitchen floor. I like to think he was puddling me another Best Story Idea.

Alice Orr – www.aliceorrbooks.com.

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Alice writes romantic suspense novels. Check out her storytelling choices in her latest book A Time of Fear & Loving – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Book 5. Available HERE. You can find all of Alice’s books HERE.

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The Strawberry Cookie Jar – A Riverton Road Story

The strawberry cookie jar probably wouldn’t have merited a second look from Amanda if she’d been her normal self that day.

“What will you use it for?” William asked.

They’d always been close and shared just about every confidence, so he understood how troubled she was. Her unusual preoccupation with the ceramic strawberry was added evidence of that.

“A cookie jar maybe,” Amanda answered without much conviction.

William lifted the lid of the foot high, fruit-shaped container, which was bright red and dimpled like its real-life counterpart. A cap of ceramic leaves, resembling a section of vine stem, formed the green curlicue handle.

“The top doesn’t fit tight enough,” he said, pushing Amanda’s strawberry cookie jar precariously close to the edge of the makeshift yard sale table. “The cookies will go stale.”

She didn’t reply. He was starting to annoy her. All she wanted was to clutch this comforting object to her bosom where she’d experienced too little comfort lately. She was fast becoming a listless shell of her customary self, and William had been sensitive to that. He’d mixed delicious apricot sours for her at cocktail hour and taken on some of the more tedious tasks of being the husband and wife chef team at Miller’s Inn on Riverton Road Hill. So why couldn’t he also let her cling to this ceramic strawberry cookie jar in peace?

As far as anyone could tell, William and Amanda had passed the seven-years-married itchy period with hardly a blip on the bliss meter. She’d relaxed then, which may have been a mistake because, almost out of nowhere, a renegade thought had begun to plague her, the thought that maybe they should try living apart. She’d been taken completely by surprise. She’d also assumed they would muddle their way through whatever this might be.

Unfortunately, she hadn’t been able to ward off a growing tendency to snipe and bicker, until she feared her nastiness might reach critical mass and she’d collapse in a cloud of self-disgust, like those high-rise buildings they detonate from within to implode straight down onto their own foundations. There were also moments, like a sunny yard sale morning, when her characteristic common sense was replaced by what appeared to be a random obsession, this time a strawberry cookie jar.

“It’s occurred to me that, if I want to hold onto you, I should go along with whatever you want.”

Amanda was so shocked by William’s words she almost dropped her precious, though actually kind of homely ceramic find. He’d always been a feisty guy, making his own rules and sticking to them. They’d gotten along so well partly because her rules were generally in tune with his. Yet, here he was, standing next to a table cobbled together from splintered two-by-fours covered up by a faded tablecloth, talking about capitulation.

What he had said echoed in the rhythm of the car wheels along the high-crowned North Country road all the way home. “Bumpy, bumpy, bumpy, bump. Go along with what she wants.” When she faced William that evening in the narrow living room of their apartment at the Inn, she was still hearing that rhythm and those words.

“What do you think I want?” she asked.

“The way I see it, you should be asking what I think you need.”

Amanda was stunned by his reaction, or lack of reaction, at least in the flatness of his tone. She was even more stunned by having no answer to offer concerning either her wants or her needs, so she waited for him to provide it, like she expected he would.

“You need to get away from this place,” he said, right on cue.

A heated argument followed, with angry accusations and layering on of guilt, like too many married couple arguments. Amanda might have taken her own cue from what William had said that morning and simply gone along with what he said, but she didn’t. The next day, she awoke regretting this and immediately began formulating an apology. Unfortunately, William had already left, and she would never see him alive again.

Meanwhile, the strawberry cookie jar languished in a storage shed for several years until Amanda rediscovered it among dusty packing boxes, red dimples dingy from long neglect, still probably incapable of keeping cookies fresh. She clutched it to her anyway, as she had all those years ago, while feelings from that time flooded back sharp and poignant as a needle behind the eyes, bringing with them William’s words.

“You should be asking what you need.” Maybe she was now ready to search for that answer at last.

Alice Orr – http://www.aliceorrbooks.com

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Read Amanda’s present-day story in Alice’s new novel, A Time of Fear & Loving – Riverton Road Romantic Suspense Book 5. Buy it HERE. Buy all of Alice’s books HERE.

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Life Changes When You Start the Day Writing #MFRWauthor #IAN1

The first monsoon clouds from my terrace

On many summer weekends, Jonathan and I leave the city for our camp in the Skylands of northwest New Jersey. Two days later, unfortunately, we return from all of that relaxation with a list of city-life things to do long enough to bring stress barreling back big time.

The next day, an act of iron-bound determination will be required to make myself pick up my notebook or pop up a file in my computer and write. Too often the notebook and the word doc file lose out. The post-weekend lists seem so much more crucial to our weekday existence. They are about keeping our real-world life running on the smooth track rather than the bumpy one after all, which is crucial to the max. That is what I’ve tended to believe most of the time.

But something happened this past weekend at camp that disrupted my customary way of thinking. I started a new book, not an adaptation like my last two books have been. The first, A Vacancy at the Inn, a novella that was orphaned when I decided to leave my agent. The second, A Villain for Vanessa, a re-imagining of a previously published novel whose rights I’d reverted.

This new book is neither of those things. It is a brand-new story, fresh out of my creative brain matter and growing word after word into scene after scene like a miracle on the page in front of me. Maybe that is why, when I work up Monday morning, I ejected the To Do lists from their previous priority position and replaced them with a long writing session. Maybe the magic had me in its thrall.

When the same thing happened on Tuesday morning, my doubts disintegrated. I was enthralled indeed. Caught up in an alternate world of story that seems somehow more truly my reality than my day-to-day down-to-earth one. And here is something else equally enthralling. After each writing session, an aura of the magic remains. My mind feels less fettered. My worries press less heavily. The To Do lists have lost a huge dollop of their tyranny.

Voila. Because I start my days writing, my life has changed for the much, much better. Alice is in Wonderland again. What do you think about that? I think things are getting curiouser and curioser.

Alice Orr – http://www.aliceorrbooks.com/

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Book 5 of my Riverton Road Romantic Suspense series – A Time of Fear and Loving – will debut on Saturday, September 16th, our 45th wedding anniversary. A Villain for Vanessa – Riverton Romantic Suspense Book 4and my other books are available from Amazon HERE.

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