“Cannot say that I have,” I managed without feeling too cheeky; problem is, the sessions were done for the day and it was time to let the wisdom marinate as we newbies unwound and bonded over a bottle of wine and a cigarette (or two), but this enthusiastic chatterer’s ensuing tale about a victory over cervical cancer made me lose interest in the queso dip I had ordered. (The light seminar spread of cold asparagus tips and chopped cheeses had only opened the flames on my appetite.)
--Oh, I adore characters and I can find the story in anything, which is the curse of being “one of those” types, and I was happily surrounded by my own this weekend. For two morbidly-enriching days, I met thorny soul after thorny soul, each born with a blessed need to write and a burning to get the story told (“by hook or by crook” and “come hell or high water” both painfully spring to mind). The ram-rod encounter mentioned above is true (and that author is self-publishing, although everyone has informed her that “memoirs don’t sell” to which she adds, “but humor does!” And, honestly, if she made her marriage work for 63 years, then she can probably sell sand to a Bedouin), but she is only one of the many contacts I made at the thoroughly productive WLT Annual Agents’ Conference I just returned from, my first foray into that circus. The spectrum of human experience was represented from the gimmicky Freak & Geek Side Shows to the seasoned aerialists--trapeze and tightrope performers who towered over us in acrobatic brilliance--and the green lion tamers.
Of the personal stories I heard this weekend, however, my top hat goes off to Anita, an elegant woman I chanced to meet on the escalator who, come to find out, had been kidnapped into a tough life on the road in a circus where one of her acts was to dance with a bear. “It’s really a memoir,” she shyly relayed (a fact I’d found most salient as an autobiographical event). “But the editors have convinced me to sell it as fiction.” Her earnest but tearful probing when she tried to explain the differences between that which is real and the metaphorical made me want to publish her book on-the-spot, if only I had had the power or the connections: “The bear is real; it was an actual bear, but I also mean it as that false bear that exists with fangs and claws that can really tear you apart.” Anita, you have no idea how much I can relate to the story of that second bear; I have wrestled the figurative creature many times, and I know it to be almost more dangerous than the fleshed variety I could tangibly lay to rest or more easily evade.
Everyone has a story—and I bet a large percentage of the average crowd would say that they “have a book in them,” but fighting for its telling and passionately pursuing it from blossom to fruit is where the line is drawn. This, oh tender-hearted typists, is where that rubber meets the dirt road, and I hope that the Anita in us all--that fearful & fatigued dancer who is trapped in a deadly place--can summon the necessary stamina to finish the dirty but literal and metaphorical journeys.