Sketching a Story

Posted on 02 February 2011

In a display of what some might call “poor judgment,” I have once again revealed less-than-flattering details about my life and past. This time, in a personal essay on the American Literary Review website (my story “Living Arrangements” appears in the Spring 2011 issue of the magazine), I mention the time I got drunk at a party, fell asleep on the couch, and woke up to find that some guy had sketched me while I slept.

Really, it’s an essay about the writing process, moments of discovery, emotional truth and all that good stuff. (But it does involve people drawing others in secret. And now I’m wondering if I made that guy from the party sound kind of creepy or possibly sinister. It really wasn’t like that; my friends were in the room the whole time.)

Fun fact: The bus story that I share in this essay inspired a scene in my story “Live Model.” While that story is definitely not autobiographical in general (thank goodness; I have enough problems aside from being an unpopular lingerie window model who shares a likeness with a supremely ugly actress), the moment Margaret spends on the bus is stolen from my own experience.

Here’s an excerpt from my essay:

At the time, I had no idea that moment on the bus would work its way into my fiction, but it did – months later, when I was writing a short story that had nothing to do with artists or sketches or anything that remotely reminded me of that bus ride. At a critical moment in the story, however, I realized that the emotional truth of what I’d felt watching that young man on the bus (and seeing my own drawing from the party) was exactly what I wanted my character feel. She needed to see that generosity from a stranger and to realize the entire world wasn’t cold or ugly or resistant.

You can read the full essay here.

Two other contributors have essays on the site, as well. Scott Nadelson uses Ivan Turgenev’s “Meeting” as the basis for a discussion about drama and conflict in fiction. Christine Sneed writes about how her stories often start with a title. She even shares a few titles still awaiting characters/stories in her notebook, like “Gwendolyn Wears Orange” and “Groucho Marx and His Glasses.” An excerpt from her essay:

Before I started writing fiction seriously about fifteen years ago, I attended graduate school at Indiana University as a creative writing student in poetry. I’m grateful that I did because I think the close attention poets are taught to pay to every word (not that fiction writers don’t too, but I didn’t, not at first) helped me learn to write stories that flow outward from the few words that sit at the top of the first page.

I really admire the American Literary Review and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to contribute an essay. Even if I did perhaps reveal too much about my teenage drinking habits.

Image: The Searcher

6 responses to Sketching a Story

  • margosita says:

    Nice! I like your connection with how the boy sketching on the bus was working out something on paper in the same way writers are also working out stuff on paper.

  • amyg says:

    nice. i like the trail you gave us to follow here, from life to essay to fiction.

    also, be happy he just drew you. i fell asleep drunk on some frat room couches and, well, let’s just say it didn’t inspire any art.

    there was once in high school when some friends and i drove to a big state park that had a huge pool in madison, indiana. we were young, but old enough to have the day to ourselves. we spent the afternoon swimming and laying out beside this pool. just before we left, an older gentlemen came up and handed each of us index cards with pictures he had drawn of each of us. i kept mine in my purse for years. i thought it was creepy then, but i still kept it.

    • That’s a great story, Amy. And while it does sound a bit creepy, the fact that he gave you your pictures makes it sound vaguely sweet and innocent. I guess it depends on his demeanor and the nature of the sketches. Still a lot better than sneaking around taking phone cam pictures of girls on the beach, I think. :)

  • lisahgolden says:

    Your essay is great. I’ve been a life model and it’s funny how each person captures you differently. Thankfully, your sketcher was interested in sketching you, not embarrassing you.

    I love it when writers share about how something from real life is used in a story or where they get their inspiration so those online posts at American Literary Review were great reads for me.

    Congratulations on your contribution!

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