It may or may not be obvious that stories can come from all sorts of places and get written for all sorts of reasons. Take for example “Suicide Hill.” It was the first story I ever mentally composed, (as opposed to writing it on paper or typing it on a computer) and I “wrote” it by saying it silently over and over again to myself as I proctored an end-of-course language arts test to middle school students in North Carolina. The story was partly written out of boredom (what else to do?) but also for a more practical reason: I had decided I wanted to earn a graduate degree in creative writing, and I needed a story to turn in as a writing sample.
Back then–this was around the year 2000–the only other text I had written was a messed-up manuscript that represented one year’s worth of writing where each morning before school I typed up 800 words of whatever I could remember about getting divorced. It was in fact the very manuscript that clued me in that I needed some help learning to write. I didn’t really even know what getting help might mean back then, (now it means I had to learn how to read like a writer) but I’d read John Irving somewhere saying something about how Kurt Vonnegut had saved him a lot of time. (Vonnegut, I proudly remind you, is a fellow native of Indiana.)
According to Irving, Vonnegut had been able to teach him something that sped up the process of learning to write. Perhaps even more importantly, I was beginning to believe that writing was something that could be learned sort of in the same way I’d learned to shoot a basketball: with some of the right fundamentals, a lot of desire, and an enormous amount of regular practice.
Next came the question that pops up every year or so for me: what to write? Back when I’d earned an MA in English Education, I participated in something The National Writing Project calls the summer institute. Doing that, I’d prepared a teaching demonstration (think writing teachers writing together) that had emerged from my reading of Stephen King’s On Writing. I had potential writers survey their life for details looking for subject matter they could bring into a story. I applied that lesson to my own thinking and what I began to consider was that I was in a relationship that was teetering toward marriage, this even though I’d promised myself to never marry again. Back then, I was in a relationship great enough that it was challenging my old promise to myself to keep to myself. In writing “Suicide Hill,” I wanted to write a story that would tell me how to live my life. It worked, but not in the way that I expected it to.