November 14, 2014

LISTEN UP- A Story To Tell


You have heard the expression:  “We all have a story to tell.”   Sometimes we convey a story from our life experiences, but largely, we gain our knowledge from research; our imagination; and if we are very lucky, tales passed down to us from others.  No matter the source of our inspiration, it is that ah ha! moment that gives a writer that secret smile and the anticipatory thrill of starting a new project.

But…it seems to me that Southern writers have a unique advantage over writers from different locales, in that, Southerners love to tell stories.  We sit in rocking chairs on the veranda with a perfectly brewed glass of sweet tea and listen to tales passed down from generation to generation from our grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins  Grandma says, “Remember the time…?”  Daddy says, “When we were youngens…” and the story begins and told with a flare and, undoubtedly, a smattering of embellishment thrown in for affect.  No matter what age we are at the time of the telling, listen up, because what you are hearing may be the catalyst for the next great American novel.

 I remember vividly my ah ha moment—that second when the seed was planted for The Disappointment Room.  I was sitting at my mother-in-law’s kitchen table, my oldest son, a toddler, on her knee.  In her sweet Lowcountry drawl, she looked over at me and said, “Dah-lin’, I want to tell you a stow-ree.”  My father-in-law’s family owned a working cotton and indigo plantation before the Civil War and from tales passed down to me and my children from antebellum days, and one in particular, about a disappointment room in the plantation house, a novel was born.

We never know when we will hear something that sparks our creative mind and gives us the fodder for our work, so listen up; pay attention to the stories, and keep your pen handy.

In addition to the handy pen, here are a few suggestions for preparation of your Pulitzer Prize winning work:
1.      Keep an open mind and think outside the box.  You can find a story in a paper bag if you have a ripe imagination.
2.     Keep a journal or a daily idea log.  We are all so busy with our lives that we don’t always have time to jot down ideas, so at the end of the day, write down what inspired you.
3.     Tuck a small notebook or a hand-held recorder in your purse or pocket for those times when you do have time to note something that you saw or heard that you can add to your work in progress or a new premise.
4.     Talk to your family and friends about their lives and ancestor’s lives.  It’s amazing what you can learn from the stow-rees.
DEE PHELPS is an alumnus of The University of Pittsburgh and Wharton School of Nursing. Dee was inspired to write THE DISAPPOINTMENT ROOM as a result of fascinating and sometimes harrowing stories passed down from her ancestors who once owned a Lowcountry cotton plantation near Beaufort, South Carolina. She is the author of the children’s book THE FLOWER IN THE THICKETS written under the pen name, Marcella Miller. She has written numerous international travel articles for national magazines. A surgical nurse for over twenty-five years, Dee lives in Beaufort. South Carolina. She won the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel at Killer Nashville in August 2014. Her website is at

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