Stories in the Attic

Landaff,_Grafton_County,_New_Hampshire._The_New_England_attic_is_famous_the_country_over_as_a_reposi_._._._-_NARA_-_521534For those of you who read my October 10, 2013 entry (“Purposeful Hoarding”), you will know of my penchant for hanging onto things (not so much balls of string as the archives of my life.) Somewhere in a box (probably several) up in the attic, I have every letter that was every written to me. Remember when people used to write actual letters? But, of course, that isn’t all, as you learned. I have souvenirs and objects that cover my entire history—playbills, work records, buttons and badges, an English teddy bear, an old Catholic school religious text. (Disclaimer: I am not Catholic but went to a Catholic school for first through third grades). It doesn’t help that I also inherited the archives from my deceased parents and sister, I haven’t moved in 18 years and didn’t have time to pare down my possessions before that move, and I live in a large house with ample storage space both in my dusty attic and my humid basement.

But I vowed this was the year I had to begin downsizing. I knew it was premature to attack the letters and the personal historical documents that might provide actual data for my writing. But surely, there were items that were no longer of use to me. So I began to delve into those boxes, mostly with the intent of ruthlessly chucking, shredding, selling, or giving away their contents.

I confess that some of my resolve began to wither as I uncovered forgotten treasures. Each one brought back memories, some good and some unpleasant. But what if my possessions could take on new roles in other people’s lives? Not real people, but fictional people whose motivations were fueled by these objects.

Below is a sample of six of the irresistible gems I found and brief pitches for the possible tales I might spin in a variety of genres.

Notebooks recording an elaborate game created, a cross between the girl scouts and a secret club: Two rival groups of girls—a girl scout troop and a secret society of mean girls—vie for the attentions of a new girl with magical powers by inventing a game that one side must win. The story, based on the minutes of each group’s meetings, reveals the personalities and motives of the players. Will good or evil prevail? (Genre: Young Adult)

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Strings of poppit beads: An elderly woman is found dead. She is wearing strands of poppit beads, each a single color, but on the table near where she has collapsed is a row of single beads, pulled apart, with some attempt to reconstruct them into a multi-colored strand. Was she strangled, or did the enormous effort needed to put the beads into a new configuration lead to a heart attack? (Genre: Mystery)

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A McCarthy for President bumper sticker: It is 1968. Eugene McCarthy, the Democratic presidential nominee (who was chosen over inside favorite, Hubert Humphrey), defeats Richard Nixon. Imagine a country in which Watergate is inconsequential because Tricky Dick didn’t win, young people finally trust someone over 30, and we give peace a chance. (Genre: Fantasy)

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A map charting a route across Europe: A recent college graduate wends her way across Ireland, France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy and explores the lovemaking techniques of men from different countries before settling down to the life of a suburban housewife. (Genre: Erotica)

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Teaching aids from an elementary school teacher: An unruly hoard of five and six-year-old girls petition their new teacher to allow the eight ladies to wear pants instead of dresses. The drama increases when a group of parents who believe that the nine bottles on display are, in fact, wine bottles demand that the teacher be dismissed for encouraging underage drinking. What defense will the teacher mount, and will these threats be enough to drive her to another career? (Genre: Suspense)

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Squares of fabric from various clothes I’ve made over the years: A woman dying from cancer recalls important incidents in her life by remembering what item of handmade clothing she wore at the time. From the fabric scraps she creates a patchwork quilt of her difficult emotional and spiritual journey to pass on to her estranged daughter, hoping it will mend the rift between them before she dies. (Genre: Literary Fiction)

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Maybe I won’t write any of these, but the exercise got my creative juices flowing, at least enough to write this post. So, if you are looking for sources of inspiration for your writing, come on round. Somewhere in my extensive collection of memorabilia I’m sure I have an object that will appeal to your imagination. You can touch it, explore it, and photograph it, but you can’t take it away. This new potential use has given me just the excuse I need to hang onto my treasures just a little bit longer.

5 comments

  1. Cynthia Johnson

    Belle,

    I love your post about your treasure trove of objects. They certainly did their magic because you’ve come up with new ideas. You remind me, once again, that inspiration lives in the details of our lives.

    Thank you!

  2. Lisa Birk

    Great post, Belle! I read a piece years ago–wish I had saved it–that showed photos of famous authors’ writing desks and views out their windows and juxtaposed them against paragraphs of description from their novels and short stories. Clearly, those grafs were drawn from life, from their own “settings.” Flannery O’Connor’s desk was in there and I want to say Eudora Welty’s too.

  3. Great post, Belle. I think the ‘patchwork quilt’ story has legs, and the McCarthy story would rival Roth’s ‘Plot Against America’, where Lindbergh becomes President instead of Roosevelt. Oh, and I want to read about the erotic journey across Europe.

  4. Emily Ross

    Belle, I love this post. Makes me feel so much better about the mountains of stuff, I mean story ideas, I have piled in my attic!

  5. Carol Gray

    “Imagine a country in which Watergate is inconsequential because Tricky Dick didn’t win, young people finally trust someone over 30, and we give peace a chance.” I want to read this story!

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