Rebecca Handler is from San Francisco and currently lives in Perth. She has worked in the philanthropic sector for many years and writes the blog One Woman Party. Her story “Small World” is published in Crush, an anthology by MidnightSun (November 2017), and her story “The Brush” is part of the collection A Nice Boy, published by Stringybark Stories (June 2017). She is writing a novel about grief. Some of it is funny. Connect to Rebecca on Twitter.
I recently attended a writers’ conference where the panel moderator asked five authors: When did you first start writing stories? One by one, passing the microphone between them, the writers all sang different verses of the same song.
I read constantly as a child. Books were my escape. I’ve been writing stories for as long as I can remember. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
I wasn’t a bookworm when I was a child. Nor was I a socially hesitant kid who turned to books for escape and comfort. What I was, and always have been, is a person who loves people and stories.
As a child, I read about brave girls like Ramona the Pest, Anastasia Krupnik, and Laura Ingalls. But I also played with dolls, spied on the neighbors, and foraged for sour grass, a Northern California delicacy when you’re young enough to overlook the dog pee. I liked books just fine, but if we’re talking about love, then we’re talking about my sticker collection. No one will ever ask me when I first fell in love with stickers, but if they did, I could rattle off several sticker discovery stories the way some might list books that changed their life. I wrote stories as a child, but mostly for school. I kept a journal but only because I was fifteen and loved boys and making lists, not because I loved writing.
My parents prized good stories, especially if they were told with panache. When Mom returned from visiting her family in Virginia, she’d deliver just as many anecdotes about our cousins as her seatmate on the plane. Dad would come home from Target with a car full of bathroom supplies and a story about the uncle of the man he met in the parking lot. My brother, an author, has been writing stories his whole life and never wanted to do anything else. I, on the other hand, never had the inclination to write fiction until recently.
My first job after university was cold calling to raise money for an anti-hunger organisation in Boston. I logged the calls on a legal pad filled with comments like, “Talked about his sister. Maybe Latino?” and “Works at a medical clinic. Could hear children in the background.” No one asked me to keep track of these details. On the contrary, I was discouraged from doing so. But that didn’t stop me. The strangers I spoke to all day were telling me such interesting things.
I ended up working in fundraising and philanthropy for nearly twenty years. Through this work, I constantly met people from all walks of life, and my role, at the end of the day, was to tell persuasive stories. Charity work is of course about the money that is raised and given away, but it is also about storytelling, and that’s what kept my interest.
I started a blog when I moved from San Francisco to Perth three years ago. It started off, as most personal blogs do, as Hey I’m going through this thing and if I don’t write about it I’ll burst. I wrote about the grandeur and peculiarities of Western Australia, the challenges of moving children across the world, and my meltdown at Cottesloe Beach. Writing became the way I made sense of things, and the difference between a good day and a lost one. I was hooked.
As I became more at home in Australia, and bumped up against the restrictions of chronicling real life, I turned to fiction. Short stories, character studies, flash fiction, and whatever tiny plays are called (Is this a genre? “Flash play” sounds like children playing Doctor).
I recently completed the first draft of a novel. It is the story of a young woman who makes a problematic decision. It is a story of aftermath, memory and magpies. Editing, or let’s face it rewriting, my novel, I see that practically every page contains a detail or dialogue from a conversation I had with someone fifteen years ago, or last week. When I close my eyes, I see an ocean of ideas, all bobbing at the surface waiting to be rescued.
I have been collecting and telling #stories my whole life. I write because it is one way of telling stories, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Crush is published by MidnightSun Publishing and is available in print and e-book on the MidnightSun Publishing website, as well as at all good bookshops. Click here to buy.