Write Where the Juice Is


When I read this advice recently in Vanessa Talbot’s ebook, 101 Ways to Live Extraordinarily, I thought of one of my great-great-grandmothers. Family legend has it that she opened the first brothel in the Yukon. The topic certainly does give us plenty of food for talk.

Is it true? Did she? We don’t actually know. I’ve given it great thought. That she did go there early on with her new husband and son is established fact. Before she married that husband, she divorced the coal miner she married before emigrating from Scotland to Illinois in 1871. For twenty years this spunky woman had run boarding houses for single miners in order to provide food, clothing and shelter for her two children. Her first husband was an abusive bum who spent his money on whiskey.

So she knew how to provide lodging for others. Demand for room and board was high in the Klondike. It makes sense that she would ply the trade she knew to bring in immediate cash while her men were slogging around in the mud in search of the fortune they never found.

Another trade was in high demand up there. It’s established fact that swarms of women went there to engage in “the world’s oldest profession.” They needed a base of operations. What would make more sense than a pragmatic forty-something matron making mattresses available to this trade? Perhaps this experience was one of the factors leading to her conversion to the newly emerging Mormon faith a few years later when she settled in Seattle.

Again, do I know that her running a brothel is fact? No. Do I plan to check it out? Records from the Klondike could show that she did run at least a boarding house. But the lack of records would not prove that she didn’t. So, no. I do not plan to check it out. I cherish this legend and have no wish to shoot it down. This story has been in the family for generations, perhaps shaming some and delighting others. I’m not going to be the one to kill it. Let future generations cherish it along with us. Soon I will pass it on to the older grandchildren.

For our purposes today as we write our own lifestories, you could choose to purposely do something audacious (scandalous may be a bit over the top) specifically for the purpose of writing about it. That’s what Elizabeth Gilbert did for her memoir Eat Love Pray. Thirty years ago I took up skiing for a single season specifically for the purpose of speaking and writing about it. So far I’ve done neither. It’s time to get that experience on the page.

But chances are you’ve already done something adventurous and colorful, showing a sassy attitude at least some of the time. Something brave and gutsy — the sort of story Sonia Marsh features on her Gutsy Living blog. Read some of those stories online, or do it the easy way and order My Gutsy Story, an anthology of top-rated posts. (I must add a disclaimer here that one of my stories is included, but I have no financial interest in the project.)

Going back to the original advice, the definition of scandalous varies from one generation to another, so what seems utterly outrageous today may seem rather tame tomorrow. Even so, disclosures today can affect relationships today, so exercise the usual discretion when it comes to confessions that could rock many boats.

Whether your story is scandalous or merely colorful, be sure to include reflections about your thoughts and feelings during and after the experience. Did you feel fear? Exhilaration? Guilt? Pride? Create vivid scenes with compelling description and strong, active verbs. Make the story as lively as the experience, and claim your spot in history as a colorful and memorable ancestor who stands out in the crowd. Be the one they talk about.

Write now: make a list of ten gutsy, audacious, perhaps even scandalous things you’ve done. Pick one and write the story! Then write another. Give your descendants something to talk about, and perhaps a standard to live up to.


SuziCate said...

Ten gutsy, audacious, or perhaps scandalous things I've done? Boy, I am going to have to give this one some thought!

Sharon said...

Suzi, you don't have to stop at ten. But wait -- maybe you feel challenged to find three. Broaden your view. Not everyone does scandalous things, and those who do may be well-advised to keep them in the closet. My anthology story, Grabbing Grannie's Dishes, involves something as simple as calling my grandmother's bluff. That pales next to stories of people who bailed out of careers, stood up to abusers and other flamboyantly gutsy things. But it was a big deal to me.

The idea here is to find the stories that are memorable. Memorable stories feature audacious, unexpected, unusual, and often humorous experiences. We hall have plenty of those that appear when we learn how to recognize them.

KathyPooler said...

Now you've got me thinking, Sharon. My maternal great-grandfather ran a saloon and when he died at the age of 33, his business partner took the money and ran ,leaving my great-grandmother penniless and a single parent to 10 children. I'm sure there are layers of stories there. BTW, love the photo!

Sharon said...

Hey Kathy, that's a juicy story, and surely your great-grandmother was one gutsy lady. Necessity tends to bring that out in people. Lots of fertilizer in those roots.

Jessica Baverstock said...

What a great project! I'll have to give this some thought.
I went and lived by myself in China at the age of 21. I need to get some of that down on paper!

Sharon said...

Wow, Jessica, you don't say how long ago that was, but even if it was last year, it sounds seriously gutsy and audacious. Definitely writable! Go for it.

sherpeace said...

Well, Sharon, I have to ask. If you write about some legend in the family, and do not do the research to make sure it is true (or, in some cases, CAN'T do the research), wouldn't you have to call it fiction?
Please, know that I am NOT pointing the finger at you. I am asking because there are many stories about my great grandmother that I would love to write about. Also, her sister who was almost her complete opposite (I think I may have mentioned on the forum that some people called them "The Lady & the Tramp.") I am almost ready to start a new story. With my mother gone and no one else alive who knew her grandmother better (she brought my mom up), I am thinking that I will have to make it a fictional story.
Any thoughts on this would be greatly appreciated.

Sharon said...

Good question Sherry. You may notice that in this particular case I refer to the story as a "family legend." My inferences about the circumstances are clearly speculation. I feel ethical about positioning it that way -- as legend and speculation.

Her grandson's mother-in-law is another colorful ancestor of mine, and I do plan to write her story. I'll tell that story in another blog post soon. It will have to be fiction for many of the reasons you state.

I covered reasons for writing fiction in my previous post: http://heartandcraft.blogspot.com/2013/10/fact-or-fiction.html.

Jessica Baverstock said...

It was several years ago now, before the Beijing Olympics. Then I went back again in 2010 and lived on my own, met my husband, got married and spent almost a whole winter housebound with illness before returning to Australia. I met the most spectacular people and enjoyed it all so much.
The real question is...what audacious thing will I try next? That you for reminding me.

Sharon said...

One of the advantages of beginning to write as a relatively young person is that you can shape your life for the page. Thinking like a writer can serve as conscience reinforcement, ethical map, compelling vision, as well as the usual functions.

Jessica Baverstock said...

That is very true! I hadn't thought of it like that before.
Some people say they haven't done anything with their life worth writing about. (Writers are often the worst and noticing good subjects right under their nose, but that's a discussion for another day.) My response would be to get out there and try something different - something worth writing about.
"Shape your life for the page." Now there's a concept I'm going to think a little more about. ;)