The Writer’s First Commandment

Cameron

The Writer’s First Commandment is: Read. Write. Repeat. Read everything you can get your hands on, because you never know where story ideas will come from.

For example, one of Aesop’s fables provided the inspiration for my flash fiction piece Cameron Obscura:

AN ASTRONOMER used to go out at night to observe the stars. One evening, as he wandered through the suburbs with his whole attention fixed on the sky, he fell accidentally into a deep well. While he lamented and bewailed his sores and bruises, and cried loudly for help, a neighbor ran to the well, and learning what had happened said: “Hark ye, old fellow, why, in striving to pry into what is in heaven, do you not manage to see what is on earth?”

That got me to thinking about a TV news story I’d seen years earlier about two boys who had to be rescued from a well they got stuck in while trying to see stars during the day. They learned two valuable lessons: You can’t see stars from the bottom of a well when the sun’s shining. And it’s easier to get into a deep hole than to get out of it.

The character I imagined getting into such a situation was based on the brother of a college girlfriend. He was autistic, and took things very literally. It fascinated me how this very sweet, kind-hearted young man could tell you all about his impressive insect collection, but couldn’t fix a meal for himself.

The final element came from an article I’d recently read. I’ve always been a science buff, and faithfully keep up with Dr. Daniel Caton, an astronomer who writes a regular column for the Charlotte Observer. In that article, Caton counseled amateur astronomers not to regret their decision to pack up their equipment when bad weather interferes with their stargazing. Yes, the sky might clear up hours later, but it’s better to live with your choice and return later, fully rested.

These various elements came together nicely into my story, and Fabula Argentea accepted it. It occurred to me that I should let Dr. Caton know his column had inspired it. He was pleased to hear this:

Mike,

I loved the story! I’m glad that adding the “never look back” made the difference in getting it published. I liked the title, too–a clever play on words.

And, thanks for the kind words on my column. May I Tweet/FB the link to the story?

Dr. Daniel B. Caton, Ph.D.

He tweeted my story to his followers, and another astronomer re-tweeted it.

I think C.P. Snow would have approved.

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