The Story Behind the Story

There are those Things that get you in The Zone.
Everyone has their “thing.”
Your thing might be Cooking, or Yoga, or Bicycling. Or Tree Categorizing, or maybe Weaving With Hair – whatever. The point is, you hopefully have that one thing (or maybe more than one?) that when you’re doing it, you’re in THE ZONE, and time stands still and you are happy, and you know you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing right at that moment.
My thing is Writing.
Well, not just any writing, but specifically, short story writing. Every so often, everything falls together just perfectly and a wonderful piece of art is created.
Sometimes I find a piece of a story idea, and I’ll think Eureka! The Next Thing! I’ll sit down to write it, and it’s a struggle. The rest of the pieces don’t come together, and I have a half page full of words that aren’t really going anywhere yet. Most of these ideas are still good ones, and do eventually turn into nice stories, but they’re a struggle and often require quite a bit of work.
But then I’ll find a story that seems to write itself, from beginning to end. More accurately, the story finds me, and I sit down and write it without even knowing where it’s going. It just shows up and I write it. The process still amazes me, every single time.
This happened last week, and it all started with a photo on Instagram.

hashtag - cute [cat emoji]
hashtag – cute [cat emoji] (photo courtesy of Christina Gandolfo)
How the story begins…
One of my favorite photographers on IG is Christina Gandolfo (on IG as @gandolphoto). She’s an a-MAY-zing professional photographer and posts lots of great personal photos on Instagram – including lots of cat photos! No, I don’t think she’s actually hit “crazy cat lady” status – at least it doesn’t appear that way on IG – but they do show up pretty regularly (they’re so cute!!)
Last week, she posted a great photo of her cat Lucy. And here are the comments below the photo:
@gandolphoto: Lucy and the paper lantern.
@ac_neil: This is a great title for a kids book. Just sayin.
@gandolphoto: I’d read it!
@ac_neil: OK, I’ll write it.
@gandolphoto: [book emoji] [thumbs up emoji] [cat with heart eyes emoji]

And there you go.
I have no idea what she might have been thinking at this point, because we don’t actually know each other. Maybe she was thinking that some nut job named ac_neil was going to have to be blocked from her account. I don’t know. But I’ll assume a better scenario.

Write on.
Anyway, I set out to write the story. I got a little CRAZY and actually started with an outline, which is unusual for me. It really did write itself. I then sent the outline to my friend Cynthia, who is an awesome illustrator (seriously, she has super powers), asking her if she’d be interested in illustrating it. She said, Sure! OK, that’s settled.

some of Cynthia's beautiful work!
some of Cynthia’s beautiful work! (artwork courtesy of Cynthia Frenette)

Then I wrote the first draft of the story in a couple of hours. Yep that’s right – it wrote… itself. I sent it to Cynthia to see if she still liked it. Her response: “Eee I love it! I got goosebumps!”
Had she just said “I got goosebumps” I would’ve erred on the side of caution, assumed it was so bad it was mutating her skin somehow, and put the story away, into the Recycle Bin. Fortunately the 3 E’s and “I love it” indicated a green light.
Next I sent the story to Ms. Gandolfo. Whaddya know – she likes it! And she said Lucy likes it too. Well that seals the deal. Game on!

To be continued!
Sadly, you are still a little ways off from being able to read it, as there’s quite a bit of work yet to be done. Cynthia and I need to figure out the layout and illustrations. And then there’s the whole question of publishing. Do we self-publish, or could it be good enough that we could shop it around?
I’m not really sure where to go with this yet. But as the story takes shape, maybe the next step will present itself. And if you have any ideas or suggestions, please let us know…!

I am, to put it mildly, really excited about this project. Not only has a great story shown up, but a super cool illustrator is going to bring some life to the words. I also named the other main character Yuri – after my friend by that name who lives in Japan. We haven’t seen each other for over 10 years but she remains, to this day, one of my very best friends. So there’s that.
Oh and it looks like I may get to actually meet Christina “@gandolphoto” Gandolfo when we head out to SoCal in a few weeks. Here’s to bringing people together and making new friends!
Thanks, interwebs.

You can find Cynthia online at Green Couch Designs and, and on Instagram @cynthiafrenette
You can find Christina Gandolfo online at and on Instagram @gandolphoto
And I am on Instagram @ac_neil – come follow us!

andrea and yuri, circa 2004
andrea and yuri, circa 2004