Alexandra Allred, the fabulous author of Damaged Goods and White Trash, has prepared an amazing lesson for today's writing lab. Dear readers, I must warn you: it's hilarious!


You Have to See It to Believe It!
Alexandra Allred

You have to see your scene.

At least, that’s how I write.

I was standing at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany, trying to determine where in the hell my suitcase was. I had put all the appropriate tags on it when we departed Dallas/Fort Worth the day before but now, standing in the massive Frankfurt airport, no one seemed to know where my suitcase was.

This was a huge problem as we were trying to make the connecting flight on Air Tunisia (Author’s Note: No sane person should attempt this. Air Tunisia does not have the traditional drink carts that serve up refreshing cokes or iced waters or little cute bottles of vodka. No. On this airline, excessively clothed stewardesses peddle cigarette cartons and everyone smokes!) but because of security in the Frankfort airport, I needed to identify my luggage before making the last leg of my journey.

(Author’s Note: It was not so much a journey as it was an exercise in torture for a crime I had apparently committed in a previous lifetime and my father, the purchaser of my ticket to hell, had undoubtedly been put in charge of seeing that I pay my dues).

I implored the woman behind the counter to look again. And again.  But she only shook her head and said something in Arabic which translates literally to, “Only God knows,” and she looked to the ceiling.  So, I looked to the ceiling, waited and then said, “Okay, see, that doesn’t help me.  Where is my luggage?”

I am getting panicked.

My sister and I are standing in the Air Tunisia wing of the airport which, for those of you who do not understand, this means we’re standing in an area where we’re the only two females who have skin on our forearms and face showing.  If I don’t get my luggage I am out of clothes and if I’m out clothes this means I will be buying clothes in Tunis and I really don’t think they have an Old Navy there so I am getting mighty worried.

(Author’s Note:  They didn’t have an Old Navy or even a Walmart in Tunis, nor did they ever find my luggage so I had to wear my grandmother’s clothing while I was there.  This is important to note because my grandmother only wore polyester pants and while her lean, little 80 year old legs sported polyester rather nicely, my rounded thunder-thighs caused the fabric, already stretched to near exhaustion, to make strange skritchy noises while I walked.  For the first few days I would walk, then stop, look around and ask, “Did you hear that?”  I thought something was following us! Was it death? Was it the spirit of the aforementioned crime victim from my previous life that I was most assuredly involved in come to seek vengeance upon me?  But my Nana just laughed and said, no, it was just my chubby little legs and then she tried to convince me to wear her sweater vest. But I digress.)

So determined, i.e., terrified was I, I continued to demand to know the location of my luggage.  Finally, another desk attendant took pity on me and ran a trace on my bag number.

“Ah,” she said at last.  “I have found your bag.”

“Fantastic!  Where is it?”

“It’s in Baghdad.”

My sister and I then spoke in unison.  “Baghdad!  What’s it doing in Baghdad?”

But …

Before she ever answered, I saw it.  I could see it so clearly. There, perched on a faraway sand dune. It lay on its side, its soft brown leather baking in the dessert sun, while three dark figures crouched over it.  Women in burkas cautiously ran their hands along the curious box until, at last, one brave woman caught the zipper and began to slowly open my suitcase.  Somewhere in the distance, a camel stood, unimpressed with my unmentionable.  But as the women slowly began to pull out my shirts and nightie, my Led Zeppelin t-shirt and Winnie-the-Pooh boxers, they let out a chorus of, “ooooooh” and “ahhhhhhh’s.”  I raised my hand to my sister to silence her.

“It’s gone,” I told her.  “It’s gone.”

And somehow I knew it was only a matter of time before I would write about this, even laugh about it, but only after the sting of having a Tunisian goat herder laugh at the sweater vest Nana made me wear had gone.

(Author’s Note: This would begin my unnatural infatuation with goats and/or the need to dispel the fear that goats laugh at me.)

Okay. Goats, Pooh Bear boxers and skritchy noises aside, you do not have to have been in the place that you write about. That’s the beautiful thing about writing.  A picture – a single picture, can burn so brilliantly in your mind that you could write an entire book about it.  But you have to see it.  When you close your eyes, you have to see that image. When you can own the dew on grass, feel the heat from the sand, almost reach out and touch a tree, you can write about it. Whether you’re a seasoned writer or a 3rd grader attempting your first storybook, the principles are the same. See it, believe it and so will I.

For next time: How Fainting Goats became pivotal characters in my book, White Trash, and why White Trash needs to be turned into a movie because of the Fainting Goats!


Thanks, Alex!

Dear readers, your comments are welcome. If you're curious about Alex Allred's novels, they're available!



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