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My guest this week is Matt Iden, author of three very good short-story collections that range from "straight crime action to chilling psychological conflicts to darkly humorous situations."
"Write what you know." It's probably the most common opening line in writers' guides. The implication is that your personal experience is an untapped vein of precious tales, nuggets of story-telling just waiting to tumble into your greedy little paws, if you would just take the time to catch them. You can at least start a writing career from the things that have happened to you, they say. The rest you can make up.
Problem is, I have a wealth of experiences, but they don't always fit neatly into a story. Friends ask why I haven't written a novel about my time as a seasonal postman or the trip I took to
Antarctica. Any idiot, they seem to suggest, could publish a diary like mine, slap a title on it, and have a best-selling book out next week. "Well, yes," I say, squirming, unable to explain that my ideas don't spring forth fully-formed. The novels, stories, and poems all come from the same place, it's true, but experiences all go into a hopper where they stew, swish around, and pop out--sometimes unbidden--onto the page. Or don't.
Here's one. It's been bothering me for years. One day I was at my local gym. I was done exercising and went to the locker room to clean up. It was the middle of the day, so the place was nearly empty (emphasis on nearly). I packed my gym clothes and turned the corner out of my locker room alcove into the main corridor. Walking ahead of me, with his back turned, was a young, thirty-something guy. He was quite...pink, which I had occasion to notice because he was buck naked.
Now, this is distressingly common in locker rooms. I'm no prude, but I go to the gym to work out, not to put myself on display. Unfortunately, it's not that unusual to find one's locker room mates shaving at the sink, weighing themselves, or chatting about stocks and bonds with their neighbor, all 100% in the buff. When I find myself near one of these exhibitionists, I discourage conversation, finish my business as quickly as possible, and keep my eyes unfocused, yet fixed to a point about eight feet off the floor and slightly to the right.
Alas, this day it was not to be. Blissfully unaware of his audience of one, the man proceeded to demonstrate as he walked down the hall what I can only describe as the most energetic and rhythmic hand jive--using every surface of his exposed body--I've ever had the pleasure to see or hear. It was impossible for me to look away. He wasn't obese, but the...fervor with which he slapped himself made his flesh wobble and turn from pink to scarlet. The wet smackings of palm meeting flesh--flickety flack-whack, skittery flack-swack--rang throughout the locker room, a staccato beat of pectoral muscles thumped, upper arms swatted, and buttocks spanked. The music didn't stop until the man--still oblivious to me--opened the door to the sauna, stepped inside, and ended the performance with the snick of the shutting latch.
This life episode, as I think you'll agree, is worth writing about. I believe I've demonstrated that. But I'll be damned if I can find an appropriate place for it in one of my crime fiction stories. So, it languishes in my mental crock-pot, waiting to be used at the appropriate time. When I tell this story at parties, people laugh, then ask what book it'll be in.
"I have no idea," I tell them. "But if you figure it out, will you let me know?"
Matthew Iden writes crime fiction, psychological drama, and dark humor. His short stories are available in several digital collections--Three Shorts, Three the
Hard Way, Three on a Match, and Three of a Kind--as well as the master collection, one bad twelve. His medium-boiled P.I. novel featuring retired homicide detective Marty Singer debuts soon in A Reason to Live. Connect with Matthew at his blog Life Sentence (http://matthew-iden.com/life-sentence/) or tweet him @CrimeRighter. Washington DC
Sample or buy any of his short stories at http://matthew-iden.com/collections/.