A few years ago, Narrative Magazine publisher and editor Tom Jenks, at an intensive 5-day writing workshop in Denver, taught us this:
A story cannot be the continual excavation of what has already happened (back story), but must be the unfolding of what is about to happen.
I figured I should sit up and take notice since Jenks edited Ernest Hemingway's posthumously published novel Garden of Eden when he was a senior editor at Scribner's, put together American Short Story Masterpieces with Raymond Carver, and works with a lot of "who's who" in the publishing world.
Last week, at a less intensive (but great) workshop taught by Andre Dubus (House of Sand and Fog), Dubus talked about the main methods writers use to reveal character. "Don't forget the interior life of your characters," he reminded us, "their thoughts, feelings, fantasies, and fears. And their memories," he stressed, "their flashbacks.”
So what about a horse's interior life, I wondered. Do horses have a back story? And flashbacks? Sheri Griffith, my "Through the Eyes of Horse" retreat co-facilitator, reminds us that horses fear what's not in their memory bank. And they remember everything! So if it's not in their memory bank, it's because it's a new experience and every cell of their body shifts into high alert. Nostrils flare. Eyes widen. Muscles tense. Skin grows taut. Ears prick forward. Pulses race. Like the black, lead horse in this photo. He's ready for whatever is about to happen. He's ALL front story, all in the present moment, all about the unfolding ACTION.
This is a lesson I have not yet learned - to live in the present moment. But it's one of the reasons I spend as much time with horses as I can, to remember what the wind on my face feels like, to lay in the grass and let the morning sun warm my bones, to straddle my horse bareback and feel his muscles move beneath me, feel my lazy writer's muscles come alive, to lift my own nose to the wind on a ride through the woods and say to a friend, "Can you smell those bull elk? Can you feel the storm coming?"
On this blustery, late February day from my Colorado mountain home, I send you wishes for a year filled with lots of "front story" and a chance to create a few "back story" memories too. Grab those reins, and go!
Causes Page Lambert Supports
Children and Nature Network
American Indian College Fund
The Quivira Coalition
Center for Whole Communities
A Room of Her Own...