The backstory of “Traveling Left of Center and Other Stories” (or my answer to “Where do you get your ideas?”)
Whenever I have a book event (virtual or in person), one of the questions I am always asked is “Where do you get your ideas?”
Perhaps they are hoping I can point them to an idea storage locker, where they can go in and choose from among the many as-yet unclaimed story triggers. Or maybe what they are looking for is some kind of inspirational activity or setting that they can do or visit that will serve as a muse for them.
Sometimes the question comes after they read one of my stories, such as those in the TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER AND OTHER STORIES collection. They want to know what in my personal background led me to write about:
- The destructive relationships that exist between people (“Exit Row”)
- The ongoing pain of the loss of a child (“Waiting for Sara”)
- The attempts to deal with life’s disappointments (“The Storyteller”)
And I’d love to be able to give them a clear-cut answer, except there really isn’t one. The way writers work—or at least, the way I work—is the way squirrels gather nuts, magpies steal shiny bits or chefs create unique recipes. We come across something that might have a value—overheard conversations, witnessed interactions, our own life experiences—and then, at some point, we pick them out of our writer’s pantry and use them to make something entirely new.
Sometimes (to stay with the culinary metaphor), the soufflé falls flat. But sometimes it comes out of the oven perfect and delicious, and we are so happy (or at least, as happy as any writer can be with what we write, which is about 85 to 99% happy) that we want to share it with other people, i.e., readers.
And that is the story of the soufflé that is TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER AND OTHER STORIES.
So, what were the specific ingredients that created this dish? “Misconnections” (originally published in Wanderings Magazine) was inspired by a dream I had of a toddler wandering through plane wreckage, holding a tooth in her hand. When you read the story, the entire dream sequence the character experiences is almost word-for-word for what I had dreamed.
“Beautiful Dreamer” hadits genesis when I awoke in the middle of the night, holding the telephone receiver in my hand and hearing the buzzing sound, and wondering if someone had called and I talked to them in my sleep. And if I did—what did I say?
“The Healer” came after I had a series of reiki sessions and started thinking about what it must feel like to be the practitioner rather than the client.
The character in “Alice In Wonderland” obviously uses books as an escape from an unbearable life—something I was able to relate to because I too have used books as a way to temporarily go somewhere other than where I was at the moment, when the moment is too much.
As for “Traveling Left of Center”—haven’t we all known someone who just keeps opening the wrong door, going down the wrong path, making the wrong choice, but just can’t link that decision-making with the outcome?
Regarding the collection itself, these 18 stories are just a small sample of what I have in various stages of completion. And when I first started thinking of combining some of my work into a book, rather than continuing to send them out piecemeal to literary publications, somehow I knew what the title of the collection would be, just like I knew what I wanted as the cover image. (Trust me—the latter is not typical of me. With my first book, THE GIFTS OF CHANGE, and my two short fiction e-books, ANNABELLE and ALICE IN WONDERLAND, I had no idea what I wanted for a cover!)
And the theme—the “elevator speech,” if you will—was equally a no-brainer: “TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER AND OTHER STORIES is about people who, whether by accident or design, find themselves traveling left of center. Unable or unwilling to seize control over their lives, they allow fate to dictate the path they take—often with disastrous results.”
People, choices, consequences—the ingredients of everyone’s story, everyone’s history, everyone’s life. I just took them and, guided by the question “What if?,” wrote down what happened next. And that, in a nutshell (a rather large nutshell!), is the backstory of TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER AND OTHER STORIES, and my attempt to answer the question: “Where do you get your ideas?”
TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER AND OTHER STORIES
There are some people who, whether by accident or design, find themselves traveling left of center. Unable or unwilling to seize control over their lives, they allow fate to dictate the path they take—often with disastrous results.
TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER AND OTHER STORIES details characters in life situations for which they are emotionally or mentally unprepared. Their methods of coping range from the passive (“The Healer”) and the aggressive (“The Clock”) to the humorous (“Traveling Left of Center”) and hopeful (“Skating on Thin Ice”).
The eighteen stories in TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER AND OTHER STORIES depict those types of situations, from the close calls to the disastrous. Not all the stories have happy endings—like life, sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t.
In these stories, the characters’ choices—or non-choices—are their own. But the outcomes may not be what they anticipated or desired. Will they have time to correct their course or will they crash?
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ALICE IN WONDERLAND—Alice is constrained by circumstances and unwanted obligations to live an unfulfilling life. Books are her only way to escape, serving as sustenance to feed her starving soul. But what will she do when there are no more pages left to devour?
ANNABELLE—A lonely young woman, all Annabelle wants is to love and be loved. But she’s fighting by the twin emotions of fear and guilt, unable to let go of the past and embrace the possibilities of a future.
ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN—Sometimes, what one fears most comes to pass because of those fears. If Charlotte hadn’t been so afraid, would the outcome have been the same?
BEAUTIFUL DREAMER—For Eleanor, it was becoming increasingly more difficult to tell the difference between being awake and dreaming, reality and fantasy. The boundaries were blurring. Would she be able to see clearly again?
EXIT ROW—He wanted an escape. After all these years, he was ready to go. But could he get away before it was too late?
MISCONNECTIONS—Anna’s recurrent dreams echo through her day, as she attempts to reconcile her inexplicable feelings of loss with what would appear to be a “perfect life.”
OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND—Despite being more than three steps over the mental health line, he’s holding fast to his belief in his own sanity. Or is the rest of the world crazy?
SKATING ON THIN ICE—Is it possible to overcome childhood trauma? And, even if you do, are you ever really “cured” or simply skating on thin ice, waiting for it to crack? Sarah is trying to skate across the thin ice. Every day, she makes a new path on the surface of her life. So far, the ice has held.
STILL LIFE—Mirror images of her life: how she wants it to be and how it is. Which one would be her true reality—and does she even have a choice?
THE CLOCK—Everyone has a breaking point. For Harold, it came one fateful evening when the clock once again stopped ticking.
THE HEALER—Cassie didn’t ask for the gift. She didn’t want the gift. For all the good it had done other people, it was killing her. All she wanted was her own healing.
THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS—Mona was relying on the kindness of strangers to rescue her. One stranger, in particular. However, thanks to the interference of others, her plans keep going awry. But she’s not giving up yet.
THE SHOP ON THE SQUARE—His attitude of superiority had gotten him quite far in life. Until a chance stop at a small Mexican town illustrated that he had much to learn.
THE STORYTELLER—Connie makes up her stories as much for the children’s sake as her own. But even her stories can’t stop the pain of reality from hurting her listeners—or herself.
THE SUGAR BOWL—Although Chloe’s life story changes with every listener, each time her tale has achieved its intended purpose. Until she chooses the wrong person to tell it to.
TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER—Her mama was forever telling her that, on the highway of life, she was always traveling left of center. She wasn’t a bad girl, mind you—just incapable of looking down the road and seeing where her actions are taking her.
WAITING FOR SARA—Her daughter Sara is gone, and while it was by her own choice, it was a decision ill-conceived and poorly executed. And so Sara’s mother waits, alone and fearful, hoping against hope that someday her daughter will return, safe and unharmed.
WATCHING FOR BILLY—Agnes was all alone until Billy came to stay. Would he bring new purpose to her life? Or take what little hope she had for companionship?
Nancy Christie’s author bio
Nancy Christie is a professional writer, whose credits include both fiction and non-fiction. In addition to her fiction collection, TRAVELING LEFT OF CENTER, and two short story e-books, ANNABELLE and ALICE IN WONDERLAND (all published by Pixel Hall Press), her short stories can be found in literary publications such as Wild Violet, EWR: Short Stories, Hypertext, Full of Crow, Fiction365, Red Fez, Wanderings, The Chaffin Journal and Xtreme.
A member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and Short Fiction Writers Guild (SFWG) and creator of “Celebrate Short Fiction” Day, Christie hosts the monthly Monday Night Writers group in Canfield, Ohio.
Focus on Fiction www.nancychristie.com/focusonfiction/
The Writer’s Place www.nancychristie.com/writersplace/
One on One www.nancychristie.com/oneonone/
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Twitter: www.twitter.com/NChristie_OH @NChristie_OH