On where I get my ideas

People tell me their stories. They always have, even when I yawn and put my head down on the table or exclaim, “Look at the time! Gotta run!” Even when I say, “I’ve heard this story a thousand times, Marvin.” Even before they find out I’m a writer or that I’m an editor. They tell me when I lie and say I’m an accountant. No matter what, people tell me their stories.

This always surprises me because I’m not a patient person or even a very friendly one. I’m brusque and I’m almost always trying to get back to what I was doing. “Wait!” they cry. “You haven’t heard the best part yet!”

People tell me their stories, and often, though not always, their secrets, which I wish they wouldn’t do because I have a tendency to blab everything. Consider: is there one piece of my private life that I’ve kept private? No. When someone says, “I’ve never told anyone this before,” I always say, “Well, for fuck’s sake don’t start with me!”

They tell me anyway. I listen, although I may interrupt them by snoring, and when they’re done they often hug me—really, personal space, people!—and they are somehow happier, and I have more grist for the mill.

I take their stories and change them up, adding and subtracting, creating a witch’s brew that turns into a character or a situation or a scene they’ll never see themselves in because I don’t use actual details.

It’s an emotion I’m looking for, or a truth, often not the same truth the storyteller found in it. I sometimes think I would have become a nuclear physicist except that everyone can’t shut up about their stories.

I’m still looking for the new job that started this whole move-to-California adventure but every time I try to ask someone else about their career, they always say, “I have a story to tell you!”

And, of course, they do.