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The Story Behind the Story

Inspired by (shall we say) a challenging relationship (and leave it at that), I was writing a short story about a woman who realized that the severe nervous condition she experienced appeared to have begun around the same time she began dating this particular person. I was fascinated with the idea of how someone in our lives can be so disruptive that it can have an actual physical effect on our bodies. I was about three pages away from completing the short story when I “eavesdropped” on a math conference.

At the time, I worked in a professional development library for one of the school divisions in Winnipeg. The PDL was housed in one half of a large open space, while the other half was used for conferences, workshops and meetings. There was an unspoken agreement between conference people and the PDL staff – we wouldn’t do anything noisy like run the printer or converse loudly either amongst ourselves or on the phone.

In the summer of 1992 (and no this is not a coming-of-age-movie although it could be), the school division hosted a city-wide, week long workshop for math teachers. On Friday, the last day, I arrived at work only to discover four huge banners softly undulating from the support pillars on the conference side of the room. One banner said “Road Less Travelled;” another said “Road Paved with Good Intentions;” the third declared “Long and Winding Road;” while the last one boasted “Road to Paradise.” I wondered briefly as to their significance then got busy with my day.

I didn’t give it another thought until mid-afternoon. After the last coffee break of the day, the workshop facilitator asked the group to stand up. Once everyone was standing, she then instructed them to gather under the banner that best described each person’s career up to that point in their lives.

In the time it took for the teachers to look around at the four banners and decide which one was the most applicable, KABOOM! it was as though a light bulb exploded in my head. In an instant, the structure of the story took shape: the theme of how a relationship can be so promising at the start but then devolve into something that is more harmful than good would be divided into parts (the road not taken, the golden road to Samarkand, etc.). The short story was now suddenly a woman’s journey from self-reliance to self-denial back to self-reliance.

This is the novel I have been “working on” since. If only it had stayed a short story…


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