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Writer as Witness

January 25, 2013

My office, where I sit to evaluate client novels or workshop submissions, has two huge windows overlooking the street.  Neighbors are aware that I’m probably at my desk when they pass by and this causes some pretty weird behavior. Like quantum particles, these people live in a world of infinite possibility of being normal until they know they are being observed. Then they freeze up in weird configurations. Some people walk by in pairs, staring stiffly straight ahead, and I can almost hear them saying to each other, “Is she up there? She’s up there! Don’t look! Keep walking!”

The dog walkers get stuck at the bushes right beneath my window so they glance up apologetically and wave. I’ve begun to know people by their dogs—Katie has a great Dane as big as a colt—Mary has twin  dauchsands who can’t really be walked, (what would they use for actual legs, not to mention the curb issue?,) so she puts them in a baby carriage with a sun bonnet, just their little brown snouts poking out which has caused a least one tourist from Delaware to think there is a lovely woman in Annapolis with two of the homeliest children he’s ever seen.

There are two close friends who invariably walk by 25 feet apart, one following the other like a banished child, which begs the definition of going for a walk together. There are the runners, power walkers, and those squadrons of tourists who speed by on Segways, always in groups, as if to say, “Don’t judge me. This is not weird! Lots of us are doing it.”

But it is weird. Not enough of us are doing it. And anyone going that fast should be making an effort.

Write a story about a hidden observer—(you?) Make it someone always watching unnoticed as  the world goes by. A security guard? Undercover cop? Child? Parking attendant? Cart boy at the grocery story? Street sweeper? Janitor? What does this person see that no one else sees? Who does he tell? What secrets does he keep? Who is in jeopardy? What will he do to save them? Go.


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  1. I like sites that include writing prompts. Thanks for helping out a fellow writer with inspiration and ideas.

    • thestorywithin permalink

      Thanks for getting in touch. I teach writing as well as continue to work on my own stories. Just had a book published last year by Penguin Books that you might like. It’s packed with prompts and guidance. Check out “The Story Within, New Insights and Inspiration for Writers.” (on Amazon and at Barnes and Nobel.)
      I think you’ll find it’s like having a workshop on your desk. Thanks again.

      • I will! I teach writing in the summer, too. I am always looking for good books with prompts for my students. I’ll pick it up.

      • Hey, one more question. As a writer hoping to get my memoir picked up, how did you go about contacting Penguin? Did you go directly or use an agent?

  2. thestorywithin permalink

    Sent email response but wordpress says it didn’t go through, so here it is again. sorry for any duplication.

    Good question about publishing. I sent a query and proposal to Penguin directly, but only because an agent told me to (ironically.) The Story Within reads like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird–it’s anecdotal, memoir-ish, embedded with inspiring prompts and guidance as to craft. (I’ve taught at the University of MD, St. John’s College, nationally published, blah, blah, blah and so on) but here’s what I learned: if it is a how-to book of any kind, you often don’t need an agent. If your book is strictly memoir, I suspect you will. Especially if you are an unknown. And it will have to be extraordinarily compelling due to circumstances of your past, etc.

    If I were you, I’d look at books already out there that are like my own and see who published them–approach those houses IF, when you google them and do your research, they say they’ll accept un-agented submissions. Otherwise, I’d look at the books I thought were most like my own in terms of content, voice, tone, and see who the author thanks as agent in the acknowledgement–then approach that agent.

    Hope this helps,
    And good luck! (I have a chapter on publishing in Story.)


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