Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Cutting it in layers by Liz Flaherty

Every now and then, my two kinds of writing cross paths, and the columnist writes from the perspective of a romance author. I hope you don't mind.

I'm a storyteller. I write contemporary stories about people I know or I am or I want to be. I try to tell them in layers, so that the story’s residents are people and animals you care about and the events are ones you believe. When you reach the end of one of my books or columns, I hope you sigh with pleasure because you feel like you’ve been there. Then I hope you go on to the next book or column.

So this morning I was thinking—I do this (or say I am) when the words aren’t coming and I’ve only written like 12 of them in the last hour—about where those layers come from.

From the past. My grandparents had a fire in the big brick house where they lived. My grandmother, skinny as a rail except for her advanced stage of pregnancy, picked up the treadle sewing machine and carried it downstairs and outside. I don’t know what else they lost, but no one was hurt and Grandma had her sewing machine. This was over 100 years ago, but the story hasn’t changed by so much as a syllable in my lifetime. I don’t know how she did it—I have one of those treadle machines and I can barely move it to clean under it—but she did.

I model my heroines on that one incident. The women I write about will never be extraordinary in looks or intelligence or accomplishment, but if life demands it, they will be able to carry the sewing machine down the steps.

From experience. If not our own, ones that are close to us. An accident happened in my bookEvery Time We Say Goodbye, the result of which is that entire families’ lives are changed forever. Two accidents much like the one I wrote about have happened locally. One of them was nearly 50 years ago, another 25 years ago. Our community still feels the ripples.

From listening. My nephew Kory and his wife Amy have seven children between them, so when they go as a family, they usually take two cars. In December, they went to a family gathering several hours away. The three teenage girls rode with Kory. He listened, laughed, learned, and was scared, and he knew all the girls better when they got there.

From airports. I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t love airports. We sit with our Starbucks cups and watch people and write their stories in our heads or even on our laptops if we haven’t already run our batteries down. We hear accents and close our eyes to try and remember them. We feel the emotions of people saying Goodbye. Of others saying Hello.

From music. Although I write in silence, I hear music in my stories. I see my people dancing in the kitchen—they all do—and there is joy in Writerville.

Where do you find your layers?


  1. Love the story of your grandma and her sewing machine. My mom had a treadle machine, too, that was her prize possession.

    1. I still have my mom's, too. I learned to sew on it, which was a shuddering sort of memory!

  2. Love this! And yes to all the places we get story from. Great post!