My Imaginary Friends: #1. Strangers on a Train

I am ALMOST done with The Animal Kingdom thread – Posts #39 and #40 are on the way! As 2020 comes to an end, I’m starting a new thread on where some of my story characters originated.

As a writer I’m guilty of borrowing (okay: outright stealing) experiences of people I know. Some become vehicles for me to muse about the world. Years ago, my father and his girlfriend came to visit me in Germany. I couldn’t spend every day with them, so one morning I set them on a train to Trier. They spent all of that day with a stranger, an American who was working in Germany. When they finally parted ways, the last words the man said to them were “I love you guys.”

The man was African-American.

I thought about this story over and over after that visit. Dad told me, the train stopped on the tracks as railroad workers cleared away brush from a storm the night before. The train was stuck and the three of them sat for hours, swapping tales as they waited for the train to start moving again.

I loved my father dearly. He would talk to anyone, and he enjoyed meeting people and finding out about their lives. He is the example I hold up, to anyone who cares to listen, about how travel turns us all into better human beings. My dad saw most of the world after my mom died. They spent the last year of her life in Italy, and I like to think that his later travels were an homage to that final, wonderful year. After decades spent traveling, my father Bobbo, a pretty typical older white male, became truly worldly in his outlooks.

But, a black man who tells an old white couple that he loves them? What an extraordinary human being he must be.

As open as my father was, he had all the privileges of time and place and skin color. What fired my wonder and imagination was that a black man in this century would have the greatness of heart to tell white retired folks something so profound. Maybe it was the meeting of like-minded souls. Maybe it was the setting: a temporary encounter on a train in Germany, a country that continues to work hard to overcome prejudices.

Maybe at some point in his life he had made a conscious decision to take people as he found them. I wanted to put myself into his head and heart. I wanted to learn from him.

He is  the kind of human being I aspire to be.

Can you tell that I was captivated and moved by my father’s story of this encounter? A decade later, when I finally (finally!!) became a writer, I discovered myself writing his story. His name is Gabe Burgess. He’s the head bartender at JJ’s Bistro in my first book Broken In: A Novel in Stories. Gabe spends time every year traveling the globe.

He has secrets.

Gabe has a tender heart.

He retains the memory of a terrible experience which has refused to fade.

And in the chapter titled Waiting, one year he meets an old white couple on a train that breaks down on the tracks outside of Trier….

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2020.

In JJ’s, the bartender and a teenaged patron plan exotic trips. JJ’s chef meets several men who’d kill for her. Valuables and peace of mind literally get stolen. Couples celebrate, or split up. In a rainy night accidents happen and people vanish. These are the stories of people whose paths cross – or crash. The tales begin in a bistro and move on to Bangkok, a carnival midway, and the bottom of a lake, among other places. Broken In: whether totally random or according to plan, after tonight life will never be the same.

The following link get you there: Broken In: A Novel in Stories

Click here to learn more about me and buy my books.

 

In Search of Inspiration

If you troll blogs and the Web, there are untold numbers of suggestions on how to find the inspiration to write. Here are my ideas for how to get inspired… all tried, tested, and true. [1]

#1. Lock yourself in a room. More importantly, lock everyone else out.
#2. Leave the room only when the whining of the family dog takes on that frantic the-puddle-that-is-about-to-hit-the-floor-is-going-to-be-your-fault whimper. If the writing is going well, you’ll be dragged out of your writerly trance. If you’re slowly dying in front of a screen that remains blank, this is rescue from your flailing “I am such a loser” writer’s misery.
#3. In either scenario, head outdoors and think about writing while you’re walking. I walk in our village’s Schrebegartens [2] when I need to think through a plot knot or to stretch my legs. Or to get some fresh air finally! Usually I pass people with actual dogs, but if I’m lucky I have the dirt path through the gardens and orchards to myself. A loop takes me about 40 minutes to walk. One very cold grey winter morning, I first heard and then watched a pair of green woodpeckers. They flew from tree bole to tree bole. I stood enchanted and didn’t move.
#4. Find people who actually write. A group that sits and talks about writing and books and movies and culture is good. My group saves those acts till 5:00 p.m. when the drinks are ordered. And then the second round. And then….

#5. Wait, where was I? Oh – find people who write. The clackety clack of a friend’s fickle fingers of fate as they fly over her laptop keys will force you to bitch-shame yourself. Soon you will be outlining, typing, scribbling, anything that makes it look like you’re composing art.
#6. Do the Vampire Energy Suck. This is the same scenario as #5, but now position yourself across the table from your annoyingly prolific writer friend (and did you ever really like him?) Stare as he writes on, oblivious. Imagine an energy transfer taking place across the table, from his creative cloud to yours.
#7. Find someplace impossibly, wildly, improbably inspiring. Find that place – and GO there. While you’re there, WRITE. I’m president of a monthly writers’ group; we meet regularly in a turreted building. I climb up three flights of winding stone steps in a tower. One day a week I go to a café in the medieval square of a nearby town.

The café’s interior has exposed timber beams and archives date the building all the way back to 1566. I want to pinch myself when I am in both spots: I write here! How lucky can I get? Other days I’m more severe: If I can’t get inspired by views and surroundings like these, I’d better hand in my writer’s badge now.

the bells in the clock tower ring every 15 minutes

#8. At least the rounds of drinks always taste right….

… as does the Flammkuchen we always order (thin crust pizza with onion, créme fraisch and bacon)

NOTES: [1] Results from writer to writer may vary. [2] German Schrebegartens are areas designated for gardens and orchards. You can own or rent, and may have a garden house complete with a cellar. But you can’t have electricity or live in the hut. © Jadi Campbell 2017. All photos © Jadi Campbell. To  see some of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.