Don’t ever write somebody else’s story.

Downtown Carrizozo, New Mexico. Photograph J Gerald Crawford.
Downtown Carrizozo, New Mexico. Photograph J Gerald Crawford.

HE WANTED TO WRITE a book. At least, that’s what he said.

The Muse settled down in a big, overstuffed easy chair in the country club bar and grill.

Nobody else in there.

Just the two of them.

A man who wanted to write a book.

And a Muse who, over time, had seen a lot of books.

“Got a story?” the Muse asked.

“A good one, too,” the man said.

“What kind of book is it?”

“A thriller.”

“Give me the hook, a one sentence synopsis,” the Muse said.

The man squared his shoulders, ordered a bourbon on ice, and said: “It’s about this former Navy Seal who learns that a Russian KGB agent is going to break into the vault of a major United States bank on Wall Street, so he takes his Navy Seal technolgy training and expertise to hack into the bank and have the money transferred to an off-shore account in the Grand Cayman Islands. However, he gets caught, and nobody believes he was simply trying to protect the bank, so he goes on trial for bank robbery.”

The man took a sip of his bourbon and grinned.

“Damn good story, isn’t it?”

The Muse shrugged.

“Were you a Navy Seal?” he asked.

“No.”

“Know anything about the Russian KGB?”

“No.”

“Have you ever hacked into a banks’s computer?”

“No.”

“Have any idea about transferring money?”

“No.”

“Ever set up an offshore account in the Grand Caymans?”

“No.”

The man laughed. “But I can Google it,” he said.

The Muse sadly shook his head.

“What you’ve told me may be a really good story,” he said. “It might make a great book. It may sell a million copies, but not if you write it.”

“Why not?”

“It’s a story, the Muse said. “But it’s not your story.” He paused a moment, then asked, “What’s your story.”

The man sighed wearily.

“I don’t have a story,” he said.

“Where did you grow up?” the Muse asked.

“Carrizozo, New Mexico,” the man said.

“Small town,” the Muse said.

“Wasting away to nothing.”

“What’s the most important thing to ever happen in Carrizozo?” the Muse asked.

The man thought a while.

He emptied one glass of bourbon.

He chewed the ice.

He asked for another.

“Well,” the man said at last, “I wasn’t born at the time, but I heard my daddy talking about it when I was growing up. I guess the most important thing to ever happen in Carrizozo was the morning the bomb exploded.”

The Muse looked surprised.

“It was back in 1945, I think it was” the man said. “The government was trying to beat the Germans and invent the Atomic Bomb. It was top secret, and nobody in Carrizozo knew a thing about it. Nobody in the world knew anything about it.”

The waitress brought another bourbon.

“They tested the bomb in White Sands New Mexico,” the man said. “It’s a military base. The site was only fifty miles away from Carrizozo. Nobody in town knew a thing about it.”

He took a sip and let the bourbon settle in his mouth for a while, then slide down to his belly..

“It was a little after five o’clock one morning, my daddy said. The ground shook. The explosion was deafening. My daddy was a little boy. He looked out the window and said he thought the sky was on fire. Nobody knew what was happening. Nobody in town was ever the same again.”

The Muse smiled.

He hardly ever did.

“That’s your story,” he told the man. “Not the Navy Seals, the Russian KGB, the high-tech bank robbery, the offshore account. That story belongs to someone else.”

He ordered a whiskey of his own.

Scotch.

Then he continued, “The day the bomb exploded over a small town in New Mexico, that’s your story,” he said. “It’s real. It’s happened. You know the people. You know the town. You’ve heard their stories. Even now you feel a lot of emotion tugging at your hear when you talk about it. I could see it in your face. I could see it in your eyes. So build your novel around such an incident, and write the book anyway you want to.”

The Muse left a simply message.

Don’t ever write somebody else’s story.

That’s what he said before he finished his whiskey and walked out of the club.

Write your own story.

It doesn’t belong to anyone else.

It’s yours, nobody knows it as well as you do, and only you can tell the story the way it’s supposed to be told.

I roamed all over Los Alamos, New Mexico, tracking down historical background information for Conspiracy of Lies, a novel about the race to build the atomic bomb.

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