Friday, October 7, 2011

The Untold Story

Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

What story is the one I can't seem to get onto the page? Well, not any one where any one other than me looks really bad. Needless to say, any story "loosely based" on anything I've seen the other criminal minds on this blog do at a writer's conference has made it to paper. Again and again. Thanks for the fodder!

But we're talking about what I can't seem to get from my mind into the world. Oh, the list. The endless list. Let's start with the earthquake of Woodward and Bernstein's revelations about political misdeeds at the highest levels. I would like to be the writer drawing the curtain and revealing the Wizard of Oz working the switches. Gabi, the scribe who outs the liars, the thieves, the corrupt and ultimately changing the world for the better. Human trafficking, mercenaries on the government payroll, despots on the verge of topple -- all non-fiction, all texture and relevance, all real, all the time. Words on a page to empowerment of the people to intellectual revolution. I visited the LBJ Presidential Library recently. There was an entire floor dedicated to "radical" groups of the 1960s. Everyone from the free love movement to the Birch society. Each group had someone writing the speeches, telling the story, moving the masses. That's the story I want to write. The one about the people who don't spend their time finger-pointing or undermining others to get their fifteen minutes of fame. How did Rachel Maddow come into being? How can others be lifted beyond their disaffectation to a place where positive change matters more than being "right." I want to write the adult Dr. Seuss books, full of lessons in generousity (The Lorax), racial equality (The Sneetches), personal responsibility (The Cat in the Hat), patience (Horton Hatches The Egg) and empathy (Horton Hears a Who). All set to a sing-song cadence and illustrated to reach beyond language barriers, socio-economic status and cultural divides.

I spent a decade, on and off, writing about my time at West Point. No, I'm not kidding. I actually attended charm school at the venerable institution complete with flying monkey uniforms (Check them out in the Wizard of Oz). I have long gray line stories I tell at parties and others I've never even whispered aloud. Every time I sit down, I bleed onto the page. After innumerable drafts, I have a dozen chapters that read like Jan Brady goes to a Service Academy and a few pages where I the sentences trail off like a hiker falling from a cliff. It's my own version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde where the protagonist stays the same but the world keeps shifting between hilarious and heart-breaking. I want to finish the story some day so it can reside in a box on a shelf high in a closet instead of in my head or my heart. It's my Metamorphoses if I ever find the words.

For a while I worked on an updated version of Little Women that never seemed to gel. Set in early 1980s Texas, Meg is married to a mid-level accountant at Enron (pre-implosion). Jo is an investigative journalist with a source on the board of directors (inconveniently married to her youngest sister). Beth is one of the first women diagnosed with GRID (which subsequently becomes AIDs) and Amy is the social-climbing trophy wife of the aforementioned Enron board member. Dad isn't off at war. He's an environmentalist with a passionate activist wife. There's social stigma, class warfare and feminism splattered with challenges of family dynamics. It seemed like a good idea in the outline. It even sounds okay to me now in this blog. It just didn't work, making it one of the few story ideas I pursued where I mourned my inability to get it to come together. Sometimes even the fully formed stories can't make the leap from my brain to my keyboard.

I wish someone would write the story of why that is and how I can change it.

Thanks for reading.



Michael Wiley said...

I agree with you about the difficulties of writing exposés . . . and personal memoirs, Gabi. I'm interested in the West Point memoir, though.

Meredith Cole said...

Me too, Michael! Memoirs are tough. I think I worry too much about making my family and friends angry (a memoir is no good unless you spill a little dirt).

Gabi said...

There were a LOT of bad outfits, Michael, including the same one worn by the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz -- who, FYI, wore it better.

Gabi said...

I think my family would accept a little dirt. An excavation of the Grand Canyon (in range), probably not so much. Look at David Sedaris. That's a Sunday dinner worth getting an invite to.