Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Story Behind the Story by Gail Roughton

As a reader, have you ever read a novel that seemed so real you could smell baking bread, feel the heat of the sun beating down on your head, hear the roars of a crowd? If you’re a confirmed reader, one who always has a book going (usually one in each room), you almost certainly have.  Because it’s those moments, those scenes, those books, that make reading so much more than a pleasant diversion and turn a casual reader into a book addict.  Those moments, those scenes, those books—they take readers to another world, another place, another time and introduce them to characters they feel they know, folks they’d like to sit down with over coffee.  Or beer.  Depends on the time of the day, I guess.

So here’s the Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar question.  How does a writer write such scenes, such books?  Not that I’m saying I do, mind you.  I’d like to think so, at least occasionally, and I know that while I’m writing, I myself am in another place and time. But not because I’m using my imagination to create them.  Because I’m tapping my memory to reproduce them.  Not exactly, of course.  Not the actual moment, the actual event.  I want the feel, the flavor, the taste, of that memory.  And I want it to come through to the reader.  But even more than that, I want to put that memory into words that I can take out and visit with whenever I so choose. Bet you didn’t know that, huh?  That basically, writers are selfish people who in the final analysis, write for themselves and not for others.  Which isn’t selfish at all, really, because by doing so, they create those scenes that turn readers into book addicts.

In other words, there’s always a story behind the story.  Always.  My “darkest” work came from a real-life ordinary moment.  In a law office.  In my early twenties, I worked for a lovely, lovely gentleman, an older attorney known to all in Macon as “the Judge”.  One day the phone rang, I answered like a good little secretary and explained that the Judge was currently out of the office, might I take a message?

“This is Jim Smith (not really, I don’t remember the real name, it was a long time ago) at Riverside Cemetery.  Please ask him to call me at xxx-xxxx.”

Okay, I was in my early twenties but I was possessed by the devil on occasion even then.  I wrote up the call and under “About” added:  “Has a vampire in one of the mausoleums and would like him evicted.” 

The Judge came back, read his message, went “What?” and we all had a good laugh.  But the idea never left me, the idea that this would be an hysterical short satire, a “Night Court” sort of satire, wherein the poor vampire had to defend his right to live in the family mausoleum.  I mean, his family paid for it, after all, for the use of dead family members.  By what legal remedy would you evict a vampire?  He’s family.  And he’s dead.  Sort of.

Somewhere along the line, the story line ceased to be humorous and it dang sure ceased to be short.  Final product:  The Color of Seven

You can find all my titles at http://bookswelove.net/roughton.php. And there’s a story behind every last one of them.


  1. Great minds. Today on my blog I started a bit on Tuesday's Inspirations about Painting Pictures with Words. Sight is the first and is the most common thing people use. Though I don't keep a book in every room, I have to read a book to the end. Sometimes months later I re-read

  2. Such an interesting post, Gail. I'm a very slow reader for the reason that if a certain paragraph is so good it does just that--takes me to another world--I re-read it over and over. That call from the mausoleum story is so funny.

  3. I loved The Color Seven Gail, and don't be so modest...you most certainly do paint a picture with words in your books.

    I'm afraid I don't have to finish a book to the end...if I don't like it, I ditch it because I think life is too short. I would never ditch yours though.

  4. Oh ladies! What with the busy holiday week (made so very special by the fact that my Navy Corpsman son has been home all week), I've just seen these comments! Thank you all so much! (Sheila, same here! I don't finish books that don't grab me but I'd never ditch yours!)


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