I’m sure everyone has faced a time or two when the mental well runs dry. You stare at the blank page (yes, some of us still write with that archaic object the pen) or screen and static hums between your ears.
Go to a Garage Sale.
First there are the places. If you do Garage Sales long enough you will end up knowing your area very well. You’ll see parts of your town you didn’t know were there and other parts that you’d never have any other reason to go into. The architecture of the houses, the way people landscape, or not, the kinds of things people think are appropriate lawn art, can all be parts of stories. They can be little details to add color and depth to a piece of work, or they can be stories all on their own.
>> Two well kept houses side by side. One has a flock of pink flamingo and plastic sunflowers. The other has award winning native plant landscaping. Think there’s some tension there?
>> A run down, boarded up house with a weed choked yard sits between two immaculately kept houses in an upper middle class neighborhood. What happens at night? Is it really empty? Is there a reason it hasn’t been sold?
Second are the people. Oh the humanity! Every kind of person imaginable goes to garage sales.
There’s the “Quick & Dirty”. They’re the ones who show up in big trucks or vans, dash through the garage sale scanning the tables, fire off questions to the proprietor of the joint and then dash off. They’re most likely looking for things they can resell or refurbish easily for resale.
Then you have the “Clown Cars”. These are the SUV’s that pull up and disgorge a family of 15. Usually, the women head for the clothes and the men for the tools or electronics. I always got the impression they were looking for practical things that could be shared.
There are the “Seasonal Visitors”. These hale from far away lands (usually Canada) and they’re there for the scenery as much as the items. Don’t be surprised if they hang out and chat with the person running the garage sale.
Some of the stranger or surprising people I’ve seen:
A man in a black cowboy outfit, complete with hat, walking a three legged dog.
Two older fellows who were clearly a couple. One was wearing very inappropriate “Daisy Duke” shorts and carrying a small dog. The other was modestly dressed in jeans and a vest.
A gaggle of women in bright colorful sarongs.
>> Two people reach for the same vase. Are they going to fight, or fall in love?
>> A woman apologetically cuts in line to ask the man running the garage sale if he has any post cards from the 1920s. It’s such an obscure and specific request what could she possibly want them for?
Third is the crap. And oh what glorious crap it can be. At the most basic are the items themselves. Maybe you find a hat that a character would wear. Or perhaps a piece of jewelry your character cherishes. These could be little ways you could get back in the groove. But, if you step back and look at the stuff as a whole it can give you hints about the people hosting the garage sale, which can also ferment story ideas. Are the items neatly arranged with tags clearly visible, or have things just been thrown on the front lawn willy nilly? Are the kids screaming about their toys being sold, or are they helping?
>> A set of nearly new golf clubs are priced at 5 bucks. Why? Revenge sale perhaps, or are they cursed?
>> A box of costume jewelry yields an antique locket with a picture of a handsome man in one half and a small folded note in the other half. What does the note say?
So what do you do when you think the stories have dried up? Where do you go to recharge?