Have you ever watched Marathon Man? This great 1976 movie stars Dustin Hoffman as Babe, a unwitting graduate student caught up in a mysterious conspiracy involving a fortune in hidden diamonds. Laurence Olivier or Szell, an evil Nazi war criminal, stops at nothing to acquire the gems. One of the most memorable scenes involves Szell torturing Babe by strapping him in a dentist's chair and drilling on his teeth without benefit of anesthesia. It is an intense, painful scene to watch. Especially if you've had deep cavities, root canal, wisdom teeth extraction, etc. . .
Yesterday, I felt like Babe. My dental appointment lasted three hours. That's 180 minutes! Or 10, 800 seconds! I won't go into the grim details of the ordeal, but suffice it to say, I was really glad when my DDS allowed me to go home. Except that my temporary crown fell off as I was driving away, and I had to go back and have it stuck on again. I parked in the lot outside the dental office and muttered to myself, "One of my characters better fear and dread dentistry in a future story. . ."
As I sat in the waiting room, a nice guy who had brought his daughter in for orthodontic work made a comment to me about a teenagers ability to send lightening-fast texts. He said a few more funny things, and I marveled silently because I'm not the sort of girl guys usually chat with. I'm the sort they might associate with a maiden aunt or a favorite cousin. My imagination immediately clicked into gear and I thought, "Alter the circumstances a bit, and this would be a cute introduction for two main characters."
Inside the operatory, the dental assistant dropped the adhesive-filled crown in my mouth. She tried to grab hold of it, only to knock it back toward my throat. Lucky for me, she caught the crown before it became a choking hazard, and then I began the "what if?" game. What if the crown had become lodged in my airway? What if I died and my grief-stricken family sued my dentist and the assistant? What if the dentist was ruined and left destitute and suicidal? How would that dramatic situation play out in a novel? My brain began plotting. Or rather, forming a plot.
Writers are weavers and fishermen. Our lives are filled with stuff, with oceans of experience to draw upon. Casting our nets over those metaphorical waters, we see what truths we can ensnare. The catch is then woven into our writing, bringing authenticity to our voice. We tell what we've learned of loyalty or betrayal, illness or health, friendship or isolation. We disguise and document the boy who got away or the man who didn't. Memories are reference books sitting near our fingertips as they rest on the keyboard.
We do not write what we know, we write what we've lived. Live well, friends, and then write about it.
P.S. I received an email from my muse Daniel Craig this morning. He heard on Twitter that I had cleaned my office/study. His one-word response to this news? "Brava."