Midnight Runs to Wal-Mart and Finding the Right Writing Project

I am starting this, my final blog for the month of April, at midnight. I don’t normally write at night, but I just returned from a late night run to Wal-Mart and thought I’d give this a try.

I do, on occasion, shop late at night. All the parents know why. I can go alone. (Tonight’s midnight run was to buy last-minute birthday gifts for twin girls in MY twin’s first grade class.)  I’ve always liked getting out of the house at night (if I can muster the energy). I like the quiet and sense of freedom going out after dark brings. I especially like it here in Texas. I love the dark and warmth (two things you won’t find together in Alaska); the empty roads, the glow of the lights in the parking lot; the lack of crowds in the store.

Sad, but true. This is what my life has come to: Extolling the virtues of driving to the store late at night. I suppose truth be told, I’ve always liked the night, and probably many of my nights throughout the years have been spent driving to one place or the other. Most of the time, while there was always a destination in mind, the getting there was half the fun.

As a teenager, it was me and my friends trying to find some elusive and often even, nonexistent party. In my 20’s, we sought the most happening night spot; my 30’s I hunted for the perfect restaurant to meet friends, and finally, now as a parent, my road warrior days are past.

Thinking about it, going out at night is about being freed from my daily routine, which as a writer, is self-imposed and involves working at home. I love and loathe working at home. I like the convenience of walking into my office in my sweats. I like being able to take breaks and do things around the house. Once in awhile, I actually manage to get work done.

As I mentioned in my earlier blogs I am writing about Christa Brelsford, an American survivor of the Haiti earthquake [Editor’s note:  Christa is an Alaskan]. I promised to write more about this project.  Christa, as some of you may recall, is the young woman who was in Haiti volunteering on a literacy project when the earthquake hit. She became trapped in the rubble and would eventually lose part of her right leg. She is a national rock and ice climbing champion. She is only 25.

It is this life change I hope to capture and illuminate; how she navigates her life from here on; overcoming such a life-changing event. Part of the story is Haiti itself, the earthquake, and Christa’s continued work to help Haiti.  A friend asked a very good question: “What makes her so special? What about all the others who lost limbs and are left behind in Haiti?”

“Well,” I said. “She is special by virtue of being an American.”

I went onto to explain that not being Haitian obviously meant she could leave the country to seek medical care, as most other Americans and other foreign nationals on the island did. But that’s the point of Christa agreeing to a book. It is her very ‘special-ness’ that Christa is using to do good.  The media discovered her in her hospital room in Miami and Christa became a tangible way to tell the story of the earthquake.

She agreed to talk to the media and to having a book written about her for one reason: To help Haitians left behind.  Almost immediately after returning to America for medical treatment, she started the organization: Christasangels.  She is going to donate her proceeds from the book to Christasangels.  She has already devoted her life to eradicating poverty through her PhD. Studies in “Sustainability.” She believes the world’s impoverished nations can be helped by building infrastructure. She was in Haiti in the first place to work on a retaining wall to stop flooding in a village.

“Stop,” my devil’s advocate friend wailed. “I get it.”

I am working on this project with my lifelong friend, Ginna Brelsford, who also is Christa’s aunt. Ginna approached me about doing this book. Without hesitating, I said “Yes!”

The first thing I do when I have an idea for a book is run the idea by my literary agent. I have heard the word ‘no,’ a lot over the years. I expected as much when I wrote her about Christa. Enthusiastically, she wrote right back: Yes.  My agent also wrote, “This is what you should be doing.”  (She was never too thrilled that I spent perhaps too much time writing for film. This made my film agent happy, though).

I have wanted a good nonfiction project to sink my narrative teeth into. I just haven’t found any thing since Johnny’s Girl that seemed to come together as well as this book.

Which means as a writer, I have purpose, a focus, and a renewed sense of self-worth. I need this as much as any writer, perhaps as much as I need to get out of the house once in awhile at night. Even if it is to go to Wal-mart.

In graduate writing school, a friend and fellow student once observed. “When the writing goes right, all goes right.”

2 thoughts on “Midnight Runs to Wal-Mart and Finding the Right Writing Project”

  1. Andromeda Romano-Lax

    The Christa Brelsford story is a great one, and I'd be interested whether or not she was someone familiar or Alaskan. Just a good all-around story. (Like many Anchorage folks, I've also known the Brelsford family, only briefly.) I imagine with this kind of story, the writer has extra pressure to write fast while the subject is extra timely. Sounds like a recipe for inspiration. I look forward to hearing more!

  2. As an Australian visitor to the US at the time of the Haiti earthquake, I followed Christa's story in the national media with great interest. She seems to be an amazingly spirited, strong and generous person, with a truly loving and compassionate nature. I look forward to reading more of her story, and I wish her the very best for the future.

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