Behind the Scenes

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Curiosity is a writer’s best friend. Ask anyone who has researched a topic for a book, article or presentation. We are drawn to interesting stories, the ones that often come from behind the scene of an otherwise familiar setting.

At a writing conference last year, author Colum McCann told the audience how it works for him. While doing background research for his novel, Dancer, he learned that ballet dancers hate the scene in The Nutcracker ballet when snowflakes begin falling onto the stage. “That fake snow is full of dirt and mouse poop,” they told him. “We can’t wait to wash our hair.” (I checked it out with my favorite ballerina, and it’s true.)

McCann told us this story to show how a small authentic detail can convince readers you know what you’re writing about. It’s the “insider” information that makes your story believable. I have a few stories of my own.

My neighbor works part-time at Kohl’s, where they are now accepting returns from Amazon orders. Want to return something? Drop it off at Kohl’s and they’ll send it back for you. But behind the scenes, my neighbor says, “there are piles of stuff, and nobody is doing anything about it. They can’t keep up with sending all that stuff back. Stupidest thing I ever heard of….”

Long ago, I volunteered at a phone bank for a local candidate. “How does she stand on….?” the voter asked me over the phone. “Hang on,” I said, “I’ll find out for you.” Much to my naïve surprise, a staffer said, “If the voter is in favor of it, say yes, our candidate will vote yes. If the voter is not, say she’s looking into it.”

In the dressing room for a fashion show for charity, I saw tattoos in surprising places. I know these people but I never saw those tattoos again. Neither did the audience.

What do you know, from your work or personal life, that most people don’t? No names, please, we don’t want to embarrass anyone! Share your story in the comments and I’ll put your name in the drawing for a copy of This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.   

The winner of last month’s drawing for Listening is an Act of Love is Cindy Louden. Congratulations, Cindy, and thanks for your comment!

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