You Know You’re a Writer When: Gas Stations


On myPicture taken from the driver's seat of the car in front of them at a gas pump. The car is off with no one near it. There is a pink "out of order" sign on the handle. way to the grocery store is a gas station that doubles as a gift store. They advertise gift-able holidays more than the price of gas. I’ve never stopped there before, for either gifts or gas.

This past weekend, however, I was almost on empty and didn’t want to be stranded in the grocery parking lot with milk and meat spoiling in the back. So I stopped.

There were two cars already in the station. I pulled up behind the sedan and started filling my tank. The full, floor-to-ceiling window of the station was packed with gifts: vases, flags and miscellaneous things wrapped in plastic. I was debating going in to find out exactly what those miscellaneous things were when I realized that there was no one else around. No new cars were pulling in for gas. The two cars that were there when I arrived were still there, but no one was filling them up. No one was sitting inside them.

I have never been the only person at the gas station before. It was creepy. Like a ghost town. My thoughts turned to *why* the people had abandoned their cars. They must have gone inside to pay (something I haven’t done in years) only to be taken hostage. Obviously.

I watch the glass doors, but I can’t see anything inside thanks to that black plastic film people put on windows to cut down on sunlight, glare and, oh, people peeping in.

Before my gas pump finishes, and before I get to the stage in my paranoia when I start to plan my escape if I’m seen, an older gentleman walks out and straightens the gift-y lawn pinwheels by the door. That’s when I see the pink out-of-order fliers taped over the gas nozzles next to the parked cars.

Ever been surprised to find yourself alone? What was your first thought? Ghost town or hold up? Or something more benign?

Ghosts of Stories Past

Castle ruins on a rocky outrop in the ocean

Dunnottar Castle by spike77 CC 3.0

While I was on my writing hiatus, I read a couple of YA books that I would not normally have picked up…they were free and I had time.

I had a few problems with them but kept reading anyway because a) we’re coming up on end of year and I have a Goodreads challenge to meet and, more importantly, b) I recognized that they are the kinds of books I would have loved when I was a YA.

Reading them also reminded me of a story I tried to write when I was in high school: a fantasy-esque story set in fictional medieval country. I then tore apart my bookshelves trying to find old print outs and old diskette back-ups of the story. I uncovered a few scribbled notes and a handful of typed pages. No full story. Since I was blanking on all my current WIPs, I thought I’d give the story a shot. I had been living with these characters for over a decade (whether actively or subconsciously), how hard could it be, right? This might have actually added to my everything-is-stupid spiral. These characters I’d lived with for so long, this sweeping tale I thought I’d locked away in my brain was…wow…trite and stock.

I was in high school, I should be able to forgive myself, right?

I didn’t expect to find already mined and polished gold, but I thought I’d find a nice solid base that I could jump into editing. Instead, I there were two characters who had no motivation other than in the end they’re supposed to be together even though no one thinks it’s possible…warring families and all. There was a backdrop of palace intrigue but had no idea how to even start writing political wheelings and dealings. To be fair, I have no idea how to do that now.

Nothing had a cause and effect outside of “because this is the way I want it.” I opened the story with people discovering the murdered body of the king. MURDERED BODY OF THE KING. You’d think the aftermath would be some kind of panic, rebellion, bloody power struggle, something other than daily routine….no. Just some people not really liking each other much.

Often times when I find something after months or years, there is always something that surprises me by making me proud to have written it. While I haven’t found it in this story yet, I have to believe it’s there.

Do you guys ever pull out your old stories? What kinds of surprises do you find?

You Know You’re A Writer When: People Watching


When the commuter train pulled up at my stop a bunch of people tumble out of the cars and stand dutifully at the end of the pavement, waiting for the train to pull away so we can cross the tracks and head to our cars or walking-distance homes. After doing this for several years, you recognize the people who have their noses buried in their phones, are staring pointedly ahead, are watching the conductors and waiting for their all aboard hand signals. We don’t talk to each other. There is no interaction, but you become familiar enough with people…and if you’re a writer you watch them like a hawk to figure out their back story.

Black and white photo of a woman standing in front of a window. We see her back and she is hugging herself. the window has translucent curtains reminicent of a country style

dying thoughts near a window II by Derrick CC 3.0

One man lives in the condo building across from the train. We walk in the same direction and, half way through the parking lot, he throws one arm over his head in a huge I’m-Over-Here!-type wave. After several nights, I finally saw the figure in the window of the top floor of the condo building.

Instantly, I have two stories in my head. One is sweet: the wife stays home and is anxiously awaiting her love to come home. She is giddy with anticipation. I instantly discard that story. How boring.

The other is sinister: the woman (a wife, sister, person the way of a great fortune) is stuck in the apartment. She is unable to move on her own (a la Blanche in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane) or she’s more the crazy in the attic type (a la Bertha from Jane Eyre). She watches for him, hating him, dreading his return but here he is…again. The house of horrors is about to start.

It’s not that I expect the worst in people…it’s that I want there to be a better story and, unfortunately, those usually don’t have such great beginnings and middles for the people living them.

I fear, though, that I’ve picked the two most obvious stories. There have to be better, more interesting things that you can glean from this action. What are your guesses?

You’ll be happy to know, that despite the gloomy and frightening corners my mind runs to, this couple does seem to fall into the first, sweet story category. Today, for the first time, I saw the figure in the window move. Once the man waved, she stood up and seem to fly out of the room in eager anticipation.