My cheekbones are made of plastic.

Post by Lois Greiman

Those were the first words out of the woman’s mouth as she handed me a book to be signed. This was many years ago at a B. Dalton’s Bookstore in Ames Iowa…when there were still bookstores to be found. I had never met this woman before in my life, but she opened up to me the moment we met, telling me how her first husband had damaged her face so badly that she had to have the bones replaced.

I was struck dumb only to be introduced to a woman in Des Moines the very next day whose story was, arguably, even more horrific. She had been declared a missing person when an unknown man from a nearby army post had shoved her into his trunk and abducted her for nearly a week. For obvious reasons, those stories have stayed with me for decades. And perhaps, for equally obvious reasons, I began doing fewer and fewer signings.

 However, I recently spent three days at the State Fairgrounds at an event called the Minnesota Horse Expo. Since my Hope Springs series is based on a cattle ranch in South Dakota I thought it might be a good venue to hawk my wares. It was, but once again, I was made privy to some gut-wrenching stories. One woman told me that she didn’t read but she was trying to write a book so that she could tell the story of how her daughter was sexually abused by both her husbands and how that daughter now blamed that abuse on her. I had scarcely gotten over that shock when a wheelchair-bound lady informed me that she had just been recovering from arsenic poisoning (intentionally caused by her ex-husband) when she was run over by a truck.

 As a human being and a novelist, a million questions immediately pop into my mind when these kinds of stories are voiced: How can these things happen? Is there no justice? Where were the people who love them…who were supposed to protect them? Is every word they speak the absolute truth? And why would anyone spill these tales in the midst of a hundred milling people? Do they so desperately need to share the experience that they’ll talk to anyone? Or is there something about meeting a writer that brings the tale bubbling to the surface.

 I don’t have any answers. Just more questions. But how about you? Have you ever been the recipient of this kind of tale from an absolute stranger? If so, how did you handle it? Or have you been on the other end of the spectrum and found yourself sharing details that you would normally keep to yourself?

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10 Responses to My cheekbones are made of plastic.

  1. Nora Braun says:

    I think there is something safe and therapeutic about divulging things to strangers. You can unburden and never have to see them again. And writers are seen as exotic creatures who have imagination, tell stories, and perhaps can empathize with their story. Of course there are those of us who talk to complete strangers about our lives all the time — I especially like to talk to cashiers and tell them what is going on with things I’m buying (trying to make chili and didnt have any beans!). What is even funnier is that my husband now seems compelled to talk about our lives to complete strangers, although always captured audiences like service or checkout folks. Do they really want to know we’ve only lived here a few years and used to be in MN? Or that he is going turkey hunting or any other sundry activity of his? Maybe he’s just been married to me too long …..

  2. leannebanks says:

    I love Nora’s response. Must confess Lois that if those kinds of things kept happening to me at booksignings, I would definitely stop! Ack! Most of the confessions I’ve received have been on airplane flights — a priest told me one of his brothers accidentally shot and killed the other. A scientist told me his church disapproved of him because he believes in God AND evolution. It’s not always bad. Just sat next to a 25 year old who had only been on two other flights. He was so excited. A graduate in architecture, he hadn’t had the opportunity to travel much. He took photos from the plane window. 🙂 He gave a great quote about flying: “Flying is like kindergarten. You take off your shoes, get a snack and some juice, then take a nap.” 🙂

    • loisgreiman says:

      Great quote but for me flying is more like the stomach flu. You have a little soda and fight nausea for a few hours. 🙂

  3. Trish Jensen says:

    Rox:
    Funny you should ask. I just received a note from a reader yesterday telling me that one of my books got her through the most stressful time in her life. I won’t go into details, as it’s not my place to, but let’s just say I was crying by the end. And then I wondered the same thing: WHY would she want to share with me, a total stranger? And my only guess is that some readers feel they know you after reading one of your books. And you’re a safe place to vent.

    Trish

    • loisgreiman says:

      Actually, this is my post (Lois). Rox just put it up for me when I was being techno challenged. But I think you’re right. We write emotive books.

  4. roxrustand says:

    Such an interesting topic! You have had some amazing experiences, Lois!

  5. debradixon says:

    I blink twice and say, “Bless your heart. That’s so difficult for you.” Then I look privately at my husband and make big eyes as if to say, “Seriously? Again? Why do people keep telling me this stuff?”

  6. Kathleen O says:

    I have not had many strangers come up and tell me their life story, but there have been a few and I just keep shaking my head and going OMG, “I think I read about that In a book one time”… am I just a little bit cynical.

  7. Kylie Brant says:

    My entire life has been comprised of odd moments when people tell me the most inappropriate things. Mentally I’m clapping my hands over my ears and singing lalalala very loudly. But the stories remain with me…well, forever.

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