Monday, November 23, 2009


So I got in a car accident today.  My first one in over 15 years.  I couldn’t possibly have been going over 5 MPH at the time so, obviously, it was a pretty minor thing in the grand scheme of life. And everyone’s ok, so happy ending and all that.

Even so, it was a bizzaro experience. 

I was at the Subway near my work, parked, and backing out of my stall.  Now, I spend a lot of time in and around the strip mall where this Subway is so I’m well aware that this place is like the Bermuda Triangle of Traffic. Strange Things always happen to me there and I know to take it easy. So, I’m backing out. I’m looking right. I’m looking left. Right. Left – and I got a funny feeling – so left again.


On the right, of course.

I’m not entirely sure what happened. Did I just miss him? Was he going too fast? I don’t know.  Anyway…



I pull back into the stall and get out of my car. The car that hit me/I hit/whatever pulls in front of Subway. The Kid gets out. I mean, he can’t be more than 20, if that. His eyes are like saucers.

I say to him, “Are you OK?”

He nods.

[Enter stage left: The Woman]

“I saw it!” The Woman yells.  The Kid and I both turn to look at her.  “I saw the whole thing.” The Woman points at me.  “He wasn’t even looking and he backed right into you. It’s his fault!”

To which I reply, “How the hell would you know that?”

“Cuz I was standing right there you Sonofabitch!  I’m 57 years old you Goddamn Asshole!  Don’t you tell me-”

And I proceeded to zone out The Woman, thinking: 1) This woman is crazy, and 2) DO NOT ENGAGE!

So I look at The Kid and say, “Do you have insurance?” The kid nods and we proceed to ignore The Woman and exchange insurance information the way any normal, reasonable, responsible, 21st century aware person would: by taking pictures of our insurance cards with our cell phones.

But let me tell you, we were an island of calm in a sea of crazy.  The Woman did not stop talking.  It was filthy.  Crazy. Unhinged.  I mean, The Woman was probably the age of me and The Kid combined and she’s carrying on about what a [REDACTED] I am while The Kid and I are doing our best to ignore her.


So what (as my dad would say) ‘in the Sam Hell’ does any of this have to do with writing?

Looking back on it, I can see that the whole experience was a fascinating study in character.

When I put my characters in various situations, I naturally find myself thinking about how they would react to that situation. I base those reactions on their who they are, past experience, environment, etc. Typically, and maybe this is just because I'm still a noob, I tend to make those reactions rational.

A + B = C. 


Apparently not.

What is it that causes a person to react to a relatively benign situation in such a bizarre way? Maybe it's still A + B = C.  I mean, maybe there is a perfectly valid reason, a particular experience in a person's life that causes them to react in a manner that doesn't make sense to the rest of us.

Then again, maybe not. Maybe it’s just random chaos injecting itself into the situation.

A + B = G, where G = Good Lord what is this all about and how did it just happen?

Maybe, as a writer, I should try to get out of my head every once in a while and let chaos inject itself into my writing. Clearly, I need to be careful with that sort of thing. I mean, I can't let a meteor fall out of the sky and kill one of my main characters, but at the same time, unexpected events can be the breath of life, whether that's in my novel, or in our everyday drama.

And there's one other thing about unexpected events that I should tell you.  They make good blog posts.


Jon said...

So... what you're planning on doing is having some woman randomly call Coltrane an asshole?

I like it.

Shawn Enderlin said...

I would do that but then my writing group would complain about how asshole sounds too contemporary for my fantasy world. The bastards... ;-)

Jon said...

Hmmm... You know... they'd probably be right, too...

Mark Teats said...

I sense a carriage fender-bender coming up in your novel.

The lady "witness"--sounds like a crazy person to me. Completely freakin' nuts.

Inserting real life into your writing? I think you can't help but do that. I think all these experiences sit there and "compost" and eventually come back out in different ways in your writing.

My latest real-life experience that will give me something to write about? Emergency appendectomy yesterday morning. When the ambulance drivers were wheeling me down the hospital hall to meet the nurse who'd be taking care of me, she said, "You're Mark? But you're smiling. Nobody smiles on their way to an appendectomy." But sure enough I did have a huge grin on my face. And why not? I was in some pain and was about to go into an operation, but I was having an experience I'd never had before, even if not a good one.

I'd never been through any type of surgery before, never been a passenger in an ambulance. I was a little scared but the writer in me was eating it up, thinking, "Wow. This is some good material."

I won't even go into the other patient who was sharing my recovery room. A new character (probably someone worthy of being killed by a Lesser) delivered to me on a hospital lunch time platter.

Shawn Enderlin said...

good lord! sounds like you are ok - for which i am glad!

and a word of advice, next time you want a writing experience try something that doesn't involve scalpels! :-)

Qlaudie said...

This is great, Shawn!
Jon and I know this type of interaction from the video store. Sometimes it takes a few sentences before you realize... OH! This person is completely unhinged. Right. New approach.