Stories stories everywhere…

One of the perennial items tossed at every living writer in almost every interview where the interviewer is using a pre-hashed set of questions and hasn’t tailored the interview to the author in the hot seat is “Where do you get your ideas?”

The responses to this have ranged from faux-earnest to outright snarky. One well-known writer famously provided an address for an Ideas Shop in Schenectady (and had people TAKE HIM SERIOUSLY). My own response is usually that I have an ideas tree growing out back, and when one is ripe I just go and pluck it off the bough (and I’ve had people take THAT semi-seriously).

Most writers, though, when confronted with the Question, simply fling their arms up in resignation and say “EVERYWHERE!” And they are, of course, right.

Look at the last week of news (oh, come on, if you’re on the Internet it’s been coming at you out of every orifice).

First we had the Fairy Tale – the dashing young man in the scarlet uniform, the blushing bride with the tiara, the Kiss on the Balcony. The fairy tale of marriage, enacted Grand Scale – the horses, the carriages, the gorgeous dresses (and the unbelievable hats), the pageant and the panoply. You know, the kind of big wedding that little girls daydream about, dressing their dolls in white crinolines and draping bits of lace over unseeing dolls’ eyes and (not many still remember the tune but the sentiment is still there) hum “Some Day My Prince Will Come”. The kind of Happily Ever After that all fairy tales end with, and many modern stories try to follow (with the Prince and the Princess riding off into the sunset in an Aston Martin rather than a pumkin coach but what can you do, times move on…)

The last time this kind of hoopla came round it was all to do with the Princess to Top All Princesses, the much-hagiographised Diana of hallowed memory. I remember it well. I was 18 years old and still full of the romantic dreams of the very young; I made a scrapbook of Diana’s wedding photos, that iconic meringue wedding dress and all. Long gone, of course, vanished into the melting years of my life – but hey, I did it then. I have no doubt that some of the more romantic teens are making one of William and Kate’s wedding RIGHT NOW, as we speak.

I vividly remember Diana coming out of the hospital after giving birth to this same William who confidently roared off in his Aston Martin just the other day with his own bride beside him – and he was a bundled papoose of a fretful baby, gracing the front pages of newspapers around the world. I’d given up the scrapbooking by then, but I remember seeing pictures, seeing it on TV, it was the obvious and customary and satisfying conclusion to the Happily Ever After from the steps of St Paul’s and the Buck House balcony – of course there would be a child, a son, an heir.

This is the way stories are born, and built, and accreted to, tales like barnacles on hoary old original stories which are falling apart with age and antiquity. We add things, new things, like the Aston Martin. But we still grow misty-eyed at young love, at the Prince and Princess on their wedding day, and we still spin fairy tales.

Then, days after the Wedding Story, we have the story of War, and Death, and Revenge. The so-called “mastermind” of the 9/11 tragedy – and I use the word advisedly, and I do not mean just the falling towers in New York – Osama bin Laden is reported dead.

America dissolves into triumph. At last, the smear on American pride is avenged, and the man who dared to attack the Greatest Nation on Earth has met his end at American hands.

And has been buried post-haste. The Internet spouts something about Muslim tradition… and a *sea burial*. Which is on the face of it ridiculous. There are backtrackings saying that there was a mis-speak somewhere that all anybody meant to say is that bin Laden was buried “within 24 hours, as per Muslim tradition”. Whatever the story, I don’t think there’s a body there to be seen, a death there to confirm. The conspiracy theorists can now start lining up on the left, please, with various and increasingly outlandish reasons as to why this is all a whitewash and Osama isn’t REALLY dead, etc etc etc. The mundane details just get in the way of a good legend being born.

The ostensible reason for American wars being waged on the Afghanistan and Pakistan fronts was supposedly bin Laden (and man, it took them TEN YEARS TO FIND THE DUDE?…) One would think that now this is over the troops over there are going to be brought home post-haste. I wouldn’t hold your breath, if I were you, actually. There’s a story here that’s now greater than the sum of its parts. The holy war is going to be hard to rein in, particularly since even the gung-ho triumphalists parading about wrapped in flags and screaming “Mission REALLY accomplished!” are aware, have GOT to be aware on some fundamental level, that this is a head cut off a Hydra and that there will be someone else ready to step in to fill the shoes now left empty. At least until now the Americans KNEW who the enemy was – he had a name that was loathed almost as fiercely as Hitler’s ever was in his heyday, he had a face that was instantly recognisable even in Lower Podunk, Middle America. He was the bogeyman who flung the planes at the New York towers. But who’s going to take his place? OF COURSE America will have to remain in the back country of the ‘stans, until further notice. Because they have to find out who the NEW Face of the Enemy is. And then track him down, and cut another head off the Hydra. But it never ends, and the thing about the Hydra, if you know your Greek Mythology, is that it tends to regrow its chopped-off heads on a regular basis. War without end. Amen.

You can make a story for that. A Story. There it is, lying there right at your feet, ripe for picking up.

What else has been happening in the world lately? Elections in Canada? Only a little further back in the timeline, the tsunami in Japan?

Human beings, living every day.

Dealing with death and taxes, weddings, tragedies and joys, triumph and revenge, hypocrisy, making mistakes, casting votes, traveling in airplanes, winning prizes, falling down and picking themselves up and starting all over again, paying bills, cooking meals, burying loved ones or welcoming new ones into the world.

Blogging, even.

Telling stories.

We’ll take that with us, if we ever take our first steps towards the stars. This capacity for making lives into legends, people into archetypes, history into myth.

We are a race that is built of Story. And there are stories… everywhere.

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There are 3 comments. Get the RSS feed for comments on this entry.

  1. 1. Elias McClellan

    Oh. My. God. Ms. Alexander, I do believe you’ve just tied a lightening rod to your anatomy.

    A couple years ago, I watched a novelist, (recently departed) rip a reporter a new one over form questions. Whatever his (the author) problems/frustrations/feelings, he missed a tremendous oportunity to do what you just did. Succinctly demonstrate the magical inspiration that is
    1) everywhere
    2) ripe for metaphor to introduce ideas to the discussion that would NOT be tolerated if overtly stated

    For instance, say, did the Dark Lord hurl his dragon riding demons at the White City out of fear/rage for assaults on his very existence, (perceived or otherwise)?

    Not the biggest GDT fan out here but I found “Hellboy II, The Golden Army,” a facinating study of the ‘otherside.’

  2. 2. Adele

    beautifully put and form interviews are not only no doubt mind shatteringly dull for the authors, but no where near as interesting for us fans either.

  3. 3. Jarvis

    As a writer, I find the most inspiration in my life, I know it’s cliche and annoying as hell, my family and friends. Not because they’re the most beautiful people in the world, quite the opposite. My family is looney, and provides so many zany stories they’re still falling out of my ears like two week-old earwax. Our inspiration is everywhere, though, and that’s what I love about art.

Author Information

Alma Alexander

Alma Alexander is a novelist, short story writer and anthologist whose books include High Fantasy ("Hidden Quen""Changer of Days"), historical fantasy ("Secrets of Jin Shei", "Embers of Heaven"), contemporary fantasy ("Midnight at Spanish gardens") and YA (the Worldweavers series, the Were Chronicles). She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two cats. Visit site.

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