The Stuff Our Stories Are Made Of


I finally read Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children this past weekend, because the movie looks like fun and I like to read the source material first and who doesn’t enjoy something dark and peculiar? It was delightful, of course, and well deserving of all its accolades, but what charmed me the most was that the story itself was inspired by found photographs, vintage photos discovered at flea markets and such.

I am obsessed with knowing how writers write. And not because I’m looking for tips (although I’m always looking for tips), but because I find it so fascinating to see where a story comes from, or to see the research that was undertaken in order to put it all together. It’s why I’ve read Robert S. Boynton’s The New New Journalism over and over again. It’s why I once gave a lit mag a glowing review because of its inclusion of a personal essay about archival research.


For the past few years, I’ve been working on a collection of essays about my assumed sexual dysfunction, the sex writing life I embraced as a form of shock therapy, and the ways in which the pharmaceutical industry, the medical community, and our culture at large are conspiring to pathologize women’s sexuality. I wrote the whole darn thing, and then my agent was all: Dude. We go from you being afraid of intimacy to you going to sex parties and trying out toys with your husband. How did you become comfortable enough to do these things with a long-term partner? We need a Michael Chapter!

So I sat down to write a Michael Chapter, and it was excruciating to write, so I went up to my husband and said: Michael. Do you remember how and why we ended up together? Because I don’t.

(These are the types of things you can say to your significant other when you have been together for over 10 years and carry no more illusions about love and life.)

Gee whiz. I can’t remember, he said. Or at least that’s a reasonable facsimile of what he said. Why don’t you go back and look at old LiveJournal entries?

Sometimes, my husband has flashes of brilliance.

So I dove back into the good ol’ LJ archives and learned things I had completely forgotten. Like: I used to blog about books fairly regularly, before Book Riot was even a twinkle in my eye. And my therapist was a fount of wisdom. (“How can you be motivated if you can’t even see your future?“) And Michael once promised me in the comments section of a post that I could still eat pretzels in bed even if we moved in together. (I have evidence now, Michael!)

I was also reminded of why I had come to love Michael in the first place. And suddenly, I was able to write again.

Fellow writers: what has been the weirdest source of inspiration for a story, or the most genius / random research method you’ve used?

(image by Christopher Paquette, via Flickr)