Stephen King describes stories as found things, like fossils in the ground. A writer’s job is to dig up that fossil and keep it as intact as possible. I really like that metaphor. When people ask me where I get my ideas I struggle to come up with a satisfactory answer. Most of the time it just feels like they’ve been there and I just kinda found them. But those fossils had to get there somehow right?
I had a book launch a few weeks ago at Stories Bookshop and Story Telling lab in Brooklyn. Do yourself a favor and check it out, great spot. As I thought about what I might speechify about, I think I stumbled upon the origin of one of those fossils. It was way back during one of my many summer nights on Cape Cod.
Our friends had gotten together atop the sand dunes of Chappy beach, drinking Nantucket Nectars mixed with Poland Spring Vodka, the type of vodka that no matter how little you drink will give you a blinding headache in the morning. Avoid at all costs. As my brother Jeffrey and I often did, we broke off from our group of friends to get in a quick walk down the beach a.k.a "bro sesh." On our journey we came across a kindly fisherman, we approached and asked if he’s caught anything. He smiled and shone his flashlight at the shore. The waves were crashing hard and just out of reach of tide's pull was a flailing, floundering…shark. The fisherman looked up at us and said, “Go save it.”
My brother and I exchanged a glance, rolled up our sleeves and got to work. The shark was twelve feet long if it was an inch (minus about ten and a half feet). Picture Jaws but 1/25th it’s size and probably not a Great White. I grasped the shark by the tail and behind its head, my brother Jeffrey walked with me into the water. We went about chest deep, past the stronger pull of the waves, Jeffrey gave the shark a loving pat on its head, we wished it luck on its voyage, and counted to three. One. Two. Three. I threw the shark into the sea and Jeffrey and I BOLTED. Although small the shark still had some serious teeth. We high fived the fisherman and headed back to our friends.
But Justin what about the part that inspired your story? How bout that fossil?
I’m getting to it.
We felt GREAT about ourselves. We strolled down the beach like the heroes we were. And right then, Jeffrey spotted a beat up umbrella, stuck in the sand dune. With no hesitation he ran over, picked it up and climbed to the top of the dune. He backed up, got a running start and leapt off the dune with the umbrella in his hand, opening the umbrella at the apex of his jump. Now what if, instead of plummeting back down to earth the umbrella lifted him up into the moonlit sky, rocketing him up into the clouds, zooming this way and that reaching super sonic speeds!? He didn’t of course. He fell to the ground, hit the sand with a thud and twisted his ankle pretty good.
But the damage was done, the fossil was buried and a decade or so later I’d write a story about a boy who picked up an umbrella and flew.