Liz Flaherty photo

Life in Layers

I am a writer. I write this column, I blog, I write books. All those things are different, but at the heart of it, I’m a storyteller. I try to tell the stories 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, I hope you sigh with pleasure because you feel like you’ve been there.

So this evening 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. At least, so the story goes, and I’m not going to argue with it at this point.

sewing machineI model my book 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. I know people like that, too—we all do. My friend Debby Myers’ sewing machine is MS, and she carries its weight down the stairs every day. I know people with Stage Four cancer who live every single day as fully as we all should. They are most certainly tired and often ill, but they are alive, too. Courageously so.

From experience. If not our own, ones that are close to us. An accident happened in my Lake Minagua series of books, and entire families’ lives are changed forever. Accidents much like the one I wrote about have happened locally. The community still feels the ripples. Friends and relatives still grieve. People still say, “…what if?”

From listening. My nephew and his wife have seven children between them, so when they go as a family, they usually take two cars. In December one year, they went to a family gathering several hours away. The three teenage girls rode with my nephew. He listened, laughed, learned, and was scared, and he knew all the girls better when they got there. I’m fairly certain he remained scared, but that’s what parents do. It’s only one of the layers you assemble when you raise people who mean more to you than life itself.

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 talk about songs and what they mean, the feelings they create. More layers. I see and write about people dancing in the kitchen, and that’s the icing on top of that particular cake.

Layers are how we survive. Sometimes things are too painful to take on all at once, so we do the Scarlett O’Hara thing and think about pieces and parts of them tomorrow. And the next day. Or maybe when we have someone to talk with—or to just listen while we talk. Some things make us so happy we want to stretch them out. There are occasional moments that frighten you with the intensity of their perfection. You have to put them in that place behind your heart and keep them safe until you need to bring them out and relive them. Layers again.

Have a great week. I hope your story has wonderful layers.


Liz maintains a blog that you can visit by clicking this link:

Get her latest Romance Novel Nice to Come Home from Amazon by clicking on this link:

Nice to Come Home To is the third book in the Lake Minigua series, following Every Time We Say Goodbye and The Happiness Pact.

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