Friday, January 10, 2014

I'm Not a Nice Guy

My schedule is changing, so I won't be free to lunch at one of my favorite restaurants.  It's not a special place, just a chain restaurant that serves guy food.  But I've been served by the same waitress there for almost ten years.

Today I went by for lunch mostly to say goodbye to her.

Now, I've been a bartender, and like most people who have been in food service, I tip well.  And, when  I could easily get two-dollar bills from my bank, I used to tip with them.  It was just a way to be remembered.  "That's the guy who tips in deuces:  he's a good tipper, let me take care of him."

(My bank has changed owners twice, and the new bank doesn't carry twos anymore, not even back in the vault.)

That waitress told me a touching story about her late son.  He died a few years ago at the age of 23 - a car accident I think, although I didn't want to pry.  She'd already told me that she gave my two-dollar bill tips to him.

Today she said that she was going through his things, and found a big atlas.  She opened it, and discovered every two-dollar bill I'd given her inside the atlas!  Page after page with four two-dollar bills, pressed like flowers.

Understand - I'd never met her son.  I barely know this waitress.  We talked a little each time I came by.    I don't even know her last name.

It was touching, nonetheless.

But I'm a writer.  And we're ghouls, using the pain of others in our stories.

So here's my question: would it be churlish to use that story in a work of fiction?

15 comments:

  1. Not churlish. It might be a nice sentimental piece. Or perhaps just a mental piece.
    Although the part of the story I don't understand is why you are going there mostly to say goodbye to her.

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    1. Oh duh, it was there, I just missed it, Sorry. But I think the title doesn;t go with the piece. Just sayin'.

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    2. That may be so. The way I write is opening line (or scene) first - something to make the reader want to take the time to read the piece. Then I write the body of the work. Next, the button or twist at the end. The title usually comes last. Anything before that is a working title.

      Recently, I had a piece of flash fiction (a fragment, really) published - but only after I changed the title into something sufficiently pretentious for that magazine.

      At any rate, thanks for leaving a comment!

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  2. Hi Tony,

    I've thought about this a lot, since drafting a memoir about my husband's suicide standoff that will now be novelized. I don't pretend that horrific event happened just to me—it happened to my kids, my extended family, and my community.

    I believe they absolutely own a piece of that story. The suicide impacted all of us, profoundly, in different ways, and I think any survivor has the right to tell their part of the story. I think what would bother me is if someone else tried to tell MY part of the story. No one but me can know what I went through, and even I'm not sure of many of my motivations. It would tick me off if someone else presumed that they had it all figured out.

    So from my perspective and experience, if you care what this woman thinks, I'd suggest you write a story about coming across that atlas, and what finding it means to you (or your character). Then you will have stayed true to your piece of the story.

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    1. That's an interesting way of handling it, Kathryn. Thank you for your thoughtful comments!

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  3. What a great story. We never know how we touch others. Flesh out that blog post into a nice essay. Then write something fictional but figure out something else besides the two-dollar bills inside the Atlas. You're a writer. You can come up with something.

    Debi

    www.GreenerPastures--ACityGirlGoesCountry.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks, Debi. I'll consider doing that.

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  4. I bet she'd be honored that you used that in your fiction. It's not like she told you a secret or something shameful; it's something sweet and human. BUT -- I would urge you to use it judiciously. Save it for something fabulous that hinges on it, don't just toss it into a salad cuz it's an interesting crouton. AND -- I experience the same attachment about rituals, waitresses, bartenders, people you see regularly and enjoy whether you know them or not I love that you said goodbye to her. I love that you tipped her in twos. When you view it a certain way, the story belongs to you, after all.

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    1. Thanks, Kelly! I always value your opinion. And yes, if I use the anecdote, it will be central to the story.

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  5. These are questions that all writers eventually address--What material do we own? How does what we write/reveal affect others? Is our interpretation of "real" events fair or accurate? The questions go on and on. The answer is not absolute. I think each circumstance, each story has to be addressed individually. Events that touch us, moments that we witness, pieces of conversations that we overhear--Are these not the elements that we writers rely on, even feed on? To me, the only Off Limit topics are those which you, the author, cannot bring yourself to write about. And if you can't, well, you probably should.

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    1. Well, I boasted in Jonathan Maberry's class that there was no writing topic or genre that was so outside my comfort zone that I couldn't write it. So I guess I'd better use the waitress's anecdote!

      And thank you so much for your input, Merry!

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  6. Merry's last sentence is BRILLIANT advice. Should be tattooed somewhere!

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  7. While it is partially your story, I understand your desire to get permission. In similar situations, I've received positive responses by sharing the finished story with people. This includes an ex-boyfriend who told me a very personal story about losing a childhood friend to a tragic accident. Of course, that was largely fictionalized, as I imagine yours might be. Good luck!

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    1. Thanks, Alyce! I appreciate you sharing your experience.

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  8. OK, folks! Thank you for your input, but the story is written (with the anecdote), and is now in the hands of my critique group. I hope to submit it to magazines before the month is out.

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