Ideas for short stories magically appear. I can’t conjure them up. I can’t sit down at a window table at Abbot’s Habit, my favorite coffeehouse, with a cup of coffee and a notebook, and say to myself: “Okay, Alex, now think of a great premise and let’s get started on the first paragraph. GO!” For me, an idea for a story usually arrives during an emotional moment in my life. It’s the atmosphere, people, sights, sounds, and most importantly, unusual occurrences, that combine to make a magical moment happen, when I realize: “I’ve got it! Another story! It finally showed up! Alright, now let’s get over to Abbot’s, guzzle some coffee, and get this baby down on paper!”
That’s how my story, “Uber Trouble,” came into being. My girlfriend, Elise, and I went out for dinner one Friday night, and instead of driving the 20-minute distance to Playa del Rey from our apartment in Santa Monica, we opted to take an Uber. We had made reservations at a trendy restaurant that serves tapas and offers an “all the wine you can drink” option on the menu. Like a lot of couples, we enjoy nights when the wine and conversation are flowing, but not if that means capping the evening off with a demonstration of how skilled we are at walking in a straight line while touching the tip of our noses. But what never occurred to us was that it might be more dangerous to get into an Uber than to try and negotiate our way home ourselves after 40 or 50 glasses of wine. Which of course is what we came up against when we hopped into the back of that car and Elise said the opening line she always says to Uber drivers: “How’s your night going so far?” A polite question that’s usually greeted with a “Terrific” or a “Not too bad” or a “Can’t complain” instead of a litany of life’s grievances that quickly dissolves into the fear that we may be living out the last moments of our lives…
In fiction, there’s a lot of truth-telling, and in nonfiction, a lot of lying. Real or made-up, the writer embellishes the story to try and make it sparkle. But it’s the unusual occurrences, at the heart of the story, that are always true. If you’re a writer, or an artist of any kind, there are no negative experiences in life, there is only the extraordinary things that happened to you that can be turned into something positive: ART.
For this writer, ideas for short stories are like ladybugs, randomly appearing and bringing good fortune and an understanding that luck and inspiration only comes around so often and you better be ready to snatch it up when it does.