Writing Is The Best Revenge

In “The Enormous Radio,” a short story by John Cheever, a woman tunes in to the private transgressions of her entire apartment building.

Give them their due, those enemies. Hey, maybe not even an enemy. Maybe just the ones who annoy you by their very presence. No need to concoct an elaborate plot about getting salt in their sweetener at the office coffee. No. They’re there, they exist, and who knows what might happen if you just picked them up and put them in a story. Or a novel. Maybe they’re just the ticket for that super-annoying pest at the pivotal party. Or the liar whose lies expose your main character’s unique goodness.

And you don’t have to start with anything in mind. I mean, sometimes the thing happens and the story writes itself. See my story “Zip Code” in the new collection Elvis’s Dog…Moonbeam. It happened at the local post office. I ran home as fast as I could, sat down, found a voice, and then added my truth to the truth. No one was more surprised than I when Berkeley Fiction Review picked up the story.

The truth is, we really don’t have to make anything up. We just need to listen, absorb, tell the truth (without making ourselves liable), because we’re basing our work on life’s reality—if that’s what you’re writing. But Sci-Fi, Romance, Noir—they all need the reality of characters who breathe. And sometimes those characters are not very nice. And maybe it’s not one person. Maybe it’s a combo platter—this overheard conversation, that guy walking down the street, that girl with the green hair.

As I’ve said in my workshops, everything is grist for the writer’s mill. Nothing is ever lost. And we can all love the Good and the Ugly, along with the Bad. And what better way to use our anger, our energy, and our smarts than by getting it all down on paper, in words.