A quick follow up to my thoughts on Snow Angels. I met Stewart O’Nan, once, on the day he talked with my English class. Though a favor to our professor, who he knew, I’m sure he was also paid for his time. That, however, is not the point. The point is the memory.
I remember two distinct things. The first relates to Snow Angels. He said that the form and structure of Snow Angels did not find its genesis in the published format. Rather, he had written an entirely different story, about the same town, and the murder of the baby sitter, Annie. But, in the final paragraph, he had two boys come across her body. At that moment, he knew, that was where the actual story lay. He threw out the entirety of his previous construction and began again, with the premise that those two boys finding the body was the important story. Thus, Snow Angels, in the form we see it published in.
The second thing is simpler. We were out to lunch, I’m sure he doesn’t remember. However, for me, I remember it quite well. We sat on the second floor of the Terra Cotta, the local coffee shop. I had been reading the contents of the ketchup bottle, for whatever reason. (it happened to be the closest thing I could read). Stewart saw this and commented that the one true quality he’d ever seen in every writer was that they read. Read everything and anything. Even if it were just the health statistics on a bottle of ketchup.
Those memories form the core of two tenets in my writing.
- Read everything and anything you can get your hands on.
- Write until you find the story, even if you have to destroy everything else that you wrote before.