Therese here to introduce you to our newest monthly contributor, Jo Eberhardt! If you’re a part of the WU Facebook scene (and if you aren’t, remedy that pronto), then you are surely familiar with Jo’s name; she frequently provides helpful advice and encouragement for others there. If you don’t yet know Jo, let me make a prediction: You’re going to love her. It’s nearly impossible not to. I had the pleasure of meeting her this past year at the Un-Conference, and was struck by her effervescent, warm personality (not to mention her magical red hair). When an opportunity opened up here at WU, I thought first of Jo–writer, mother, Australian adventuress, and already one of us.
Now that I’ve introduced you to her, she’s going to introduce you to something else. Take it away, Jo, and welcome to WU!
When was the last time you sat and watched ants?
As a child, I could do it for hours. Or what felt like hours to a small, non-time-telling version of me. I’d sit and watch a line of ants walk across the grass, and then follow the line one way and then the other, working out where they came from and where they were going. But then I grew up, and ant-watching became just another hobby left behind as I moved from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood.
Fifteen months ago, I threw in the towel on my suburban life and moved to live in a caravan in the bush. Since then, I’ve rediscovered a lot of my childhood joys, largely by watching my children discover the same ones, and shamelessly copying them. These days, I build stick-houses for fairies, find shapes in the clouds, and make up stories about the water dragon who lives in the creek. And, of course, I watch ants.
And because I’m me, watching ants soon transitioned into experimenting with ants. What would happen if I lay down a trail of breadcrumbs for them? Would they follow it?
Spoiler alert: The answer is yes.
With a trail of breadcrumbs, I could lead them anywhere. First one ant, and then another, would find the first breadcrumb. A bustle of activity would run up and down the line. And then the trail of ants would split, some ants continuing on their original mission while others went to investigate this new, tasty treat to be taken home and put in the ant-parlour for later consumption.
Eventually, I took the experiment to the next level. I set up my trail of breadcrumbs, and then finished it with a larger piece of bread. Then, I watched the ants swarm.
As you probably know, ants can carry up to fifty times their own weight. But if something is too big for them, too awkward, they don’t just let it lie. They gather their ant-cohorts and they patiently work at bringing the whole thing back home. One piece at a time, if necessary.
It reminds me of the way I develop ideas for stories.
Come on, you knew that was coming.
There I’ll be, minding my own business, when all of a sudden I see or hear something, and BANG. A story breadcrumb. My thoughts swirl around it eagerly, getting a feel and a taste for it. Then I follow it to the next breadcrumb, and the next, and the… You get my point.
Breadcrumbs can appear any time; often when you least expect it. For example, a couple of months ago I found one lurking in the “trending articles” list of my Facebook feed. My eyes skimmed over it, and I started to scroll down, and then– BANG. I was jolted back to the headline.
“Logan International Airport: Nude suspect assaults 84-year-old man after falling through ceiling.”
My thoughts raced, searching for the next breadcrumb on the trail to this story. Maybe the guy was a time-traveller, sent back into the past to prevent some terrible event from occuring. No, poor Sarah Connor deserves a break.
Maybe he was a member of an ancient druidic order intent on creating world peace by having druids perform mystical rites in the ceilings of all international airports simultaneously, and when this hapless druid (with anger management issues — ironic, yes?) fell through the ceiling mid-rite, he opened a rift in reality to another, more terrifying, world. And now, all hell is about to break loose.
I can hear the melodramatic movie trailer already.
Or maybe Mike Swift was right when he pointed out that the guy was probably a psycho stalker on drugs. But that’s okay. There’s a story there, too. You just have to keep following the breadcrumbs.
And, speaking of flash fiction (What? We weren’t? Did you not notice my seamless segue?), I’d like to officially welcome you to the–
2015 Writer Unboxed Flash Fiction Contest!
“A contest?” you say. “How does it work?”
I’m glad you asked. [Read more…]