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Scott Lax Blog

On Inspiration for Writing Fiction

Students and readers -- but most especially non-writers -- ask where I get inspiration for fiction.

For me, inspiration can come from anywhere. It can be somewhat mystical: The idea for THE YEAR THAT TREMBLED came to me in a flash, sitting in Robert Frost's meadow near sunset in the Green Mountains in Vermont. (I had the idea to write a book that begins and ends in a meadow; which is does.) It can be deeply subconscious - for two new stories that I have coming out, I typed the title and everything flowed from there.

I had no idea what they would be about. I typed, "Sleeping In," and ended up writing a story about a former New York City Wall Street Trader that slept through 9/11 and ended up getting fired, then became a high-society thief. (It'll be published this week.)

I typed in "The Crack," and ended up writing a story about a chef and his new restaurant; the story begins when the young chef/restaurant owner sees a crack in his new slate patio. (That will be published in early June.)

For another story that was published recently, "Sales Call," I also typed the title - what came out of it was a story about a young salesman in 1980 who gets snowed in at a Holiday Inn in Nebraska. He meets an older, wiser salesman, and his life becomes forever changed.

I filled those stories in with all kinds of what I call shelf items - memory, observation, research, and most importantly, imagination.

(I can't really say much about my new novel -- more on that later.)

I'll write more about inspiration, but for now, here's my advice: if you write fiction, trust yourself - don't censure yourself. Don't be too self aware and let it flow. You have an entire genetic memory stored in those cells of yours. You have your mind and imagination. Use them. They'll breath life into your characters and your stories.  Read More 

Fiction's Possibilities

As the literary world and many others celebrate or acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the death of Mark Twain, here's one of my favorite of his quotes: "Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn't."

What this means to me: For right now, I'm wondering how many people I actually reach through op/ed pieces or personal essays. People have their opinions and rarely give thought to other, conflicting opinions.

Yet fiction can go through, into, around a subject. It can go deep, using the sensibility -- another word for soul -- of the author to gain insight into the world.

Maybe that's why I'm writing almost nothing but fiction these days. What I have to say for now I can say best with fiction. I believe in essays and memoirs; it's just that to every writer there is a season. This is mine for fiction.

I've have a new short story published online within a couple of weeks. You can check back here for a link to it.  Read More 

"Sales Call," My Short Story, Placed Second in a Competition

I was recently informed that I won second place in The Lit's MUSE magazine Literary Competition. I won it for a short story I wrote -- under 3,000 words -- called "Sales Call." The winner was Toni Thayer, for "You Are What You Play." I've never met Ms. Thayer, but send her congratulations and wish her much success.

This is a particularly nice award, as it's the first short story I've submitted to a magazine -- I wrote it for the contest, pretty quickly -- and it's about a subject that I've thus far avoided – sales, and the lost world of American manufacturing.

I was once a traveling salesman, a manufacturer's representative, though the story itself is fiction. I typed “Sales Call,” as a title, and the rest just came pouring out. I had no idea what it would be when I typed that title. I spent so much of my younger years in that occupation. (Drumming, and music, should be coming up soon in my fiction writing, as I was a professional drummer, too - sometimes it takes some distance to write about a thing.)

I'm gratified that the judge chose to recognize something that isn't anywhere close to the de rigueur, MFA fiction that I read so much of in magazines. It's just a story about a young salesman and an old sales pro. That's all I'll say about it, as I heard it's going to be published in The Lit’s MUSE magazine in March.

For me, it's a bit of confirmation that trends don't matter to everyone; that you should follow your heart and write about what you want to write about; and that what's hip today will be passé tomorrow. Don’t worry about what judges or editors or publishers are looking for. You’ll paralyze yourself. Just write cleanly and from the heart.

I'm grateful to Judith Mansour, executive director of The Lit, for promoting writers and literature in NE Ohio. If you want to read an article that ran today about The Lit and the contest, click the link on the Announcements or Home page of this site. As for the story, it should be published pretty soon. Read More 

Moving Between Fiction and Nonfiction

It's common for me to move between writing nonfiction and fiction during the day (or night). What the two forms have in common is that I try to craft sentences lyrically, to make them sound pleasing to the ear, or mind. What's different is that with nonfiction, I make every effort to write the truth to the best of my knowledge.
This necessarily limits nonfiction, because if the author speculates, he or she must make clear that it is opinion, not fact.

With fiction, I believe in what Ernest Hemingway wrote: "All good books have one thing in common - they are truer than if they had really happened."

What that means for me is that in my fiction I try to write not just about human beings, but about human nature. While I may not tell the reader why a character says something, I know why he or she says it. I know the character's history, her background, and her mood when she utters the dialogue.

When Hemingway says, "[novels are] truer than if they had really happened," I think he means that the action of a novel speaks to a deeper truth about life - it's truer because it isn't random, but illuminating. Who turns on the light to illuminate the page? We do - the writers. That's what we strive to do; that’s what we live for. We can’t be afraid to shine a light, even into dark corners. Read More