The first accidental, obvious lesson Neil Gaiman taught me six or so years ago was this: Everyone gets ideas. Writers write them down. Idle observations, daydreams, they're ideas. I don't know where I thought ideas came from, but that? Was too obvious. Couldn't be so. But it is.
Here is the second.
Neil is doing this Blackberry-sponsored project called A Calendar of Tales. He's writing flash fiction (very short stories) based on answers to questions he asked on twitter, one for each month. For instance: what's the best present you ever got in April?
For November he asked: what would you burn in November? I answered immediately and without thinking: my medical records, but only if it would make it all go away. To my surprise, he favorited it. If you're not familiar with twitter, you can "favorite" someone's tweet, rather like bookmarking it, and when someone favorites something of yours you get a notification. Then he retweeted it--he was RT'ing a lot of these--and a bunch of people responded "OMG I love that." And then Blackberry wrote and said my tweet had been chosen.
All it really means is Neil is using that tweet as a prompt to write the November story, which it looks like he wrote yesterday or so he told us all on twitter. For this honor (and I do count it as one), I had to sign a three page "YOU OWN NOTHING OF THIS, DO YOU HEAR? NOTHING!" agreement with Blackberry. I suppose there really are people out there who would try to claim ownership of something based on a tweet, which is a fantastical story in and of itself.
I scratched my head about it all. Why did he see a story in that, why did so many other people see a story in that and I didn't? The last ten years or so we've struggled with my health. It's like being followed around by a giant, be-sneaker'd centipede; we keep waiting for yet another shoe to fall. We try to find Ma Ingalls' "some small gain" among the great losses. Beginning to write fiction was one small gain. But teeter long enough on the edge of death and bankruptcy and it gets old. It was just the bald truth, the very first thing I thought and blurted out.
Which is the second, accidental, obvious lesson Mr. Gaiman's given me: the truth, bald and blurted, is always the best prompt. No matter how fantastical the story. So even if I don't get to go to Clarion West this summer, he's taught me something this year anyway. What I really want to learn next is how best to exercise that muscle, the one that recognizes truths strong enough to hang a story on.
(The title of this comes from one of the other "prompters," who introduced himself on twitter as Mr. August and referred to me as Miss November.)