Tuesday, June 17, 2008

How Stuff Ends Up In A Story

How does a nice B&B (Casa de Suenos) like this get turned into part of a story? It does in Chapter 17 of my first completed manuscript. The chapter deals with a romantic carriage ride enjoyed by soon to be 16-year-old Jack (the main character) & his girlfriend Talia during twilight in St Augustine.

Deb & I went for a carriage ride Thanksgiving night a year & a half ago after a nice dinner at 'The Columbia'. It was a fantastic, mid 70 degree evening with a light breeze & lots of stars. The city is always lit up from Thanksgiving through January. They call it 'The Nights of Lights' & literally every building & bridge is covered with little white lights - millions of them. It's quite awesome. I was writing Bad Latitude at the time & during that holiday weekend, decided to make the ride part of the story. This B&B was one of many sites that caught my eye so I included it, along with a healthy dose of pure baloney. Here's an excerpt that shows how a 30 second pause became a small part of a very tall tale .....

Even Dumpy (the horse) understood it was a ride not to be rushed and he clip-clopped through the quiet streets as if it was the last fare of a long night. Fifteen minutes into the tour, Jack asked Elayne (the carriage driver) to pull to the curb as he pointed toward an ornate house serving as one of St Augustine’s elegant bed and breakfast accommodations.

“Do you see those large windows with the circular tops across the front?” asked Jack. Talia nodded and rolled her eyes, knowing a story was on the way. Elayne held back gently on the reins and shifted sideways in her seat. She wasn't bashful about eavesdropping and decided to do so comfortably.

“More than one hundred and fifty years ago this building was used as a funeral home. In its’ heyday, it was one of the few mortuaries where bodies were embalmed before burial. Can you guess the reason for the large windows?”

Talia’s eyebrows arched. “Don’t tell me they did the embalming in front of the windows so people could watch.”

“No, but you’re close. Elayne, do you know?”

“I think so, but let's hear your version, if you don’t mind.”

Jack continued. “Because the mortician was able to preserve the bodies using the newfangled method, he displayed his handiwork right there in those windows. Once the body was prepared, it was dressed up real nice, make up was applied, and the corpse was placed in a propped-up casket with the lid removed. It was left to stand, facing the street, for as long as two whole weeks. Neighbors would gather to pay their respects and admire the undertaker's artistry. The funeral director always set the burial date in order to get the maximum use out of his clients. It was an early form of advertising, paid for by allowing the family a discount for his services, based on the number of days the stiff remained, uh... useful.”

Talia giggled. “Did they post a sign below the dead people saying ‘This could be you’?”

Elayne laughed and added, “They did put price tags at the bottom of the, uhm... displays. Helped to hide the bare feet. Shoes didn't get wasted in those days. If someone was buried with their boots on, you'd better believe they'd have been dug up by morning an' left in the box with just their naked little toes poking up.”

"When did the undertaker or director decide on a burial date?" asked Talia.

"Once the fingers started turning black and curling away from the body," said Jack.

"That's so gross. You're making that up!"

Elayne turned to face forward. "Sorry kid. He's telling the truth, but forgot to mention that if the undertaker didn't get the embalming just right, purplish patches would spread across the dead guy's face and then the little show was over. Guess it was sorta like fruit going bad, without the little flies."

Talia felt her stomach churn as she buried her face in the side of Jack's chest. She was trying to force the image out of her mind.

Jack winked at Elayne as they moved away from the curb. "The fly thing was a nice touch. I'll have to remember to use it next time."

So, I guess it's kinda strange - how my mind works, that is. There really is a story hidden away just about everywhere. Even in a short pause during a peaceful ride.