I have done a lot of different jobs in my life. I have been a teacher, an athletic coach, won prize money as a runner. I’ve worked in human resources and employee development. With the employee development and training jobs I worked in heavy manufacturing and high-tech manufacturing, with building services, in magazine publishing and with call centers and road-side assistance. In each job I made it a point, even if I held a management position, to get out and spend time with the front-line workers. I made sneakers during my years working with Nike and with AAA I listened to calls in the call center and rode along with the flatbed and tow drivers.
The diversity of these occupations gave me exposure to many different lines of work and connected me to a wealth of different personalities and people. Each job provided me with potential stories. As an example, consider a newly-married young woman who worked with me at Nike’s old research and development center in New Hampshire. She came back to work all excited one sunny Monday morning in autumn. Over the weekend her husband had dragged her along on a day of deer hunting with a friend. She had shot a big buck but neither her husband nor his friend had bagged one. Weeks later my co-worker was not as happy. Her success with deer hunting challenged her husband’s self-image. Her marriage was struggling. I converted that situation into my short story The Deer Slayer in my anthology, Finding Our Way.
In some of my stories, I draw on my personal experiences but they aren’t really autobiographical. They aren’t memoirs because I change things. Have you ever had a dispute with someone, maybe a good friend or your spouse? We all have. And did you find yourself hours later mulling the dispute and suddenly thinking of a brilliant response to something they said? “Oh, that would have been perfect! That’s what I should have said,” you think. As a writer I get to do that. I get to change what people say, what they do, even the overall outcome of events and story lines. “It’s fiction. I get to make the stuff up,” I sometimes tell people when they ask about my stories. I make things work out the way I wish they really had.
That said, I was a pretty good marathon runner back in the day, but I was not as fast as Jacob Payne in my story “Running Home” at the end of Finding Our Way. But I know what it’s like to live and train at that level and I’ve had some very fast friends. I also paint with watercolor and have occasionally sold a painting. But I am not nearly as talented as Patrick Chamberlain in The Art of Love. “Running Home” and The Art of Love turned out to be good stories. They’re fiction. They’re Alternative Facts. I made them up.
Peter Stipe is the author of Finding Our Way; a collection of short stories, and The Art of Love, a novel. Peter Stipe.com Facebook: PeterGStipe