Sunday, February 27, 2011

The seed of truth

All my stories start with a seed of truth. That has been my tagline for many years. It lets me off the hook most often with what I call "personal fiction."

As I was wandering around Louvain-la-Neuve the other day, I thought about a story I wrote that is set here. This is where the seed was planted.

The story is poetically called Blood and is a part of my longer story Blood, Guts, Spies and Fat Naked Ladies, about the year I spent in Bulgaria. Strangely enough, the year in Bulgaria began with the year in Belgium. So confusing, those B-l-g countries...

Anyway, the story begins when I saw a sign for the blood donation center. Here it is:
Okay, it's not the same building. This building above didn't exist at the time,but I gave blood right across the way from here. I saw signs on the street that said "Don de sang,'' which means "Blood donation." I'd given blood at home often, so I went on up.

I met a cute guy named Pedro at the blood donation center. After I gave blood I was offered a huge sandwich, some schwag, and beer or wine. I declined the alcohol--I had to hurry to my Bulgarian class. When I arrived my professor, Mme Staneva, was shocked that I had done something so risky as to give blood.

Later in the story I met Pedro again and started going out with him. We were sitting outside Café Grand' Place one day, having a drink when Mme Staneva went by. I introduced them.

The story goes on from there, and even has an embedded Bulgarian vampire story in it.

Parts of the story actually happened, parts did not. The seed of truth was that I gave blood and my professor was appalled. She said, in her strong Bulgarian accent, "Priscilla, you must not to give blood. Is very dangerous thing to give blood. You promise me you never to give blood again." I did meet a guy named Pedro, and we did go out. I also spent a huge amount of time at that café.

I love the process of finding a story. I knew that I wanted to tell a story that included Pedro and dancing. Then one day I told my brother-in-law the anecdote about giving blood. He laughed just the right laugh, the one that indicated that there was a real story in there. I remembered that Pedro's hair came to a widow's peak. I also remembered that Mme Staneva chastised me the next time I gave blood. When I visited her the next summer in Bulgaria, she told her neighbor that I had given blood. Twice!

I muddled around with that for a while, thinking about the importance of blood in Bulgaria, where there are plenty of vampires in folklore. I went looking for a folktale. Aaah, perfect. How to chunk it in? Oh, right, have Mme Staneva tell it to me as a cautionary tale. Finish up the story with Pedro at the end.

I worked on that story with a class of middle school kids. They gave suggestions. I paid close attention to the parts of the story that worked. Where did they laugh? Where did they look confused? Was there anything extraneous that needed to be cut? Of course there was, there always is. A big part of story creation is paring away the unnecessary bits. Finally it felt ready. Done? No, stories tend to continue evolving. Sometimes the best they can be is ready.

I tell that story a few times a year. It's nice to be here in Belgium, where the seed was planted.

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