I saw something the other day that caused mixed emotions in me.  It was a hardback book, spread-eagle in the middle of the parkway, its pages flapping in the wind as cars drove over it.  Now the cars weren’t smashing it with their tires, thank God.  They were straddling it.  (Yes, I know, there are lots of sex puns there.  They’re not intended.)

My mixed emotions came from the fact that I was so thrilled that someone was actually buying books, perhaps even reading them.  That was juxtaposed with an equal amount of sadness that the book was being treated so poorly.  I wanted to rush into traffic and grab it and protect it like a child.  But I was rushing to Mickey D’s for a sausage biscuit.*

Besides, maybe the owner of the book would miss it and come looking for it.  Then again, maybe the owner didn’t give a hoot about the book and had tossed it in a rage.  A wife furious at what her husband was reading?  A student fed-up with school?  Maybe furious at a specific teacher?  Or did it accidentally fly out of the bed of a pick-up truck and that student wants that book?  Will he get in trouble for his carelessness?  Does he need the information it contains to get into college?   Does he love that book?  Maybe it holds a love sonnet he wanted to copy for his girlfriend – or words of inspiration for his baseball team. 

For struggling writers, this is where stories and books come from … from seeing something that triggers questions and daring to find the answers to those questions.  

Yes, part of that is the proverbial “then what” or “what happens next” question.  I used to use that when I talked to elementary students about writing.  A kid’s dreaming of a Slurpee, I’d tell them.  He goes to the 7-Eleven with a dollar in his pocket, but just as he gets to the 7-Eleven, that dollar blows out of his hand, and he’s really, really thirsty.  Then what?  From that, the kids would take off on an adventure, with me constantly asking, “Then what?”  And it’d usually end when the teacher and I would get freaked when the kids would have the monsters or bad guys show up.

But that doesn’t just work in fiction; it works in nonfiction too.  Suzy, an uptight, white Southern Baptist chick, starts researching and investigating Americans’ alternative sex practices.  Then what happens … to her?

Now I’m dreaming of the book I could write if I’d picked up the book I saw spread-eagle in the middle of the parkway and searched for the story behind it.  Maybe it’s the book owner’s story?  Maybe it’s the story of the book’s author?

But I’ll never know because I went to Mickey D’s and stood at the counter with mixed emotions.  They were serving breakfast and lunch.  I didn’t know what to choose.  I hate breakfast; I love lunch.  But if I had lunch now, which is 1000 calories, I couldn’t have lunch later today.  But if I had breakfast, ugh, that’d be 500 calories, and I could still have lunch later today.  Then what?

Mixed emotions. 

* So what happened that Suzy ended up at Mickey D’s instead of Whataburger?  My neighborhood Whataburger has gotten so filthy that I’m not going as often.  And Suzy really wants her daily Whataburger.  What happens next?

  1. Elizabeth S. Brinton Reply
    Yesterday, I tackled the big book case in the family room. I am doing an inventory of every book and every shelf in this house. Some went to the keep pile and others, which I would love to read again, but sadly, can't went to the goodwill. Paperbacks, some I have had since high school simply have not stood the test of time. My son once came home from the Good Will with a copy of the complete works of Shakespeare which he purchased for fifty cents. Think of the value, he said. I did put a book in the keep pile. It was a collection of poems by Dylan Thomas. I noticed as I dusted it that someone had written an inscription. My uncle, my father's brother, had given this book to my mother after my father's untimely death at the age of fifty. My uncle wrote that the tributes did not fully capture my father's vitality. So he referred Mom to the poem on page 159. I immediately turned to page 159 and then had to erupt in a big old, private smile. "Do not go gentle into that good night, Rage, rage against the dying of the light." These were the absolute last words I said to my grandfather, my father's father as he lay dying. At the time, my grandfather grabbed my hand and smiled. So, we keep books not just for the stories we may read again, but for the inscriptions, and the record of when we read them. I found high school English texts with the names of my late brother and sister written on the first page. I saw the passages they underlined and their notes in the margin. How true. I found my original copy of Pride and Prejudice from ninth grade. This house in its shelves, cupboards and nooks and crannies is a museum of my life. One day will a granddaughter of mine curl up with one of my stories? I have and always will have, a love affair going with books. They have been my constant friend and as I write my memoir, things like my uncle's inscription seem to pop up every day. Perhaps the book on the road was on its way to a friend, or about to be set aside for a young scavenger intent on building a library. If we all go to Kindles, what happens to those experiences?
    • Suzy Reply
      Wow, Liz, you are such a beautiful writer. Then again, I've known that for 15 years. Sounds to me that in organizing your books, you've found a new book of your own. You just wrote the opening. What happens next?
  2. Ragan Tate Reply
    Beautiful. Daily I bemoan the passage of the written to electronic word for many such reasons. My younger colleagues simply don't understand.
  3. Coyote Reply
    Where is the Book?...I'll go get it....The suspense is killing me....Like the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock used to do....
  4. Mary Alice Reply
    The book in the road reminds me of one I read a couple of years ago about depression. I got so depressed reading it that I wanted to get rid of it but it cost too much to toss in the trash. So I took it shopping with me (sure cure for depression, right?) and left it lying on a bench for some other seeker to pick up. Wonder who has that book now?
    • Suzy Reply
      LOL. I have several books like that too!

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