Monday, November 2, 2009

Inspiration at the Polls

A few years ago someone in my polling district got sick or moved or retired or whatever. As a registered voter of the minority party in my county, I received a phone call from the election boards asking if I would be willing to work at my local election poll. Little did I know this would become a fulltime gig.

For a writer always on the lookout for material, manning the polls is pretty good fodder for the old idea mill. Since I seldom leave my house, I don’t hear much local gossip that could inspire a fiction work. Once a year this changes radically. Discussing the election or candidates and issues is off limits so we talk about the way things used to be, former residents and those we only wish would move away, unresolved scandals, and the bleak condition of the economy. Or rather, they talk and I absorb like a sponge.

The one thing all writers have in common is an insatiable curiosity. We’re not satisfied knowing something happened. We need to know why and how. If no one can tell us, we fill in the blanks. It’s how fiction writers are born.

Filling in the blanks is a habit I picked up as a child. When adults discuss the really good stuff around children, they speak in code they think the child will not be able to follow and leave key sentences hanging. Covertly listening in on these conversations is what encouraged the writer in me so many years ago.

Born and raised in a small town I heard stories, new and old, about unrequited love, jealous quarrels that ended in gunfire, robberies, back stabbings, cheating, lying, and coveting thy neighbor’s wife. It wasn’t long before I began writing stories that satiated my curiosity and allowed me to end them however I chose. The power over the lives of adults was intoxicating. Before I even knew how to write the stories down, I was addicted. I suppose writers never outgrow that love for the unknown, the unsolved. It’s what keeps us tapping away on our keyboards even when publishers are stingy with contracts and our agents consider another line of work.

It is my hope that my job tomorrow at the polls will deliver some interesting, intriguing tidbits that start me tapping away on some new material. I’m taking my Dana with me for when inspiration strikes. Who knows, I might even start my next bestseller. So get out and vote tomorrow. If you see old neighbors and friends with their heads together discussing the latest local scandal and a lone woman nearby tapping away on her keyboard, come over and say hi. I always like meeting readers.

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