The Cat with Too Many Names
Gram and the Goat Twins
The Octopus Who Played the Pipe Organ
Mr. Greer’s Mule
Summer of the Skunks
Let’s look at the list again. In my family’s ever-changing menagerie, was there ever a mule? No. Or an octopus? Absolutely not! So how did those stories happen?
Travel can furnish unexpected story material: One day when I was in an ocean aquarium in Alaska, a volunteer octopus-sitter told me about the clever things her little friend did. The octopus would play hide and seek by disappearing behind his tank’s seaweed; he could ball himself into a tight fist; if he was pouting, he’d shoot ink and hide in it. This information later merged with a totally different idea—one gleaned in Vermont—to form my octopus story.
As to the owl story…I never outgrew a tendency to bring injured animals home and try to doctor them back to health. That’s how, as an adult, I became friends with a screech owl.
Of course, made-up stuff is often the very thing that makes a story work. But our own background and experiences can be valuable story material.
That’s what I like most about writing. Whether you live on a farm surrounded by animals or in a high-rise apartment or [fill in the blank], there are stories only you can tell. And a blank sheet of paper or computer screen is a really good place for the telling.