The Writers’ Curse?

This article appears on courtesy of Paula (Pjo) O’Riley,the author of “Atheist in Church – on Heaven and Other Mysteries” and “Postcards from Planet Eldercare – the Final Frontier.” Next up: a novel set in 1963 Reno, Nevada, containing a search for Heaven, a question of self-forgiveness, race relations, and a bit of illicit romance.       


I have been lately trying to decide if my storytelling bug is a curse, or not. It does feel like a bug, something that lives inside, virus-like in its replication so that eventually, after long enough, it’s just another attribute, like hair color or the propensity for British-isms.  Similar creatures must inhabit architects and fashion designers who have been long at their crafts. Surely an architect drives down the street and notices not only buildings with interesting shapes, but also those that could use a different roofline or a smarter entrance. A few pediments here, a Doric column there, a brushed steel portico, and a sense of how the office spaces within might display the greatest advantage.

Though the creations of fashion designers are carried on a person’s back and must fit into a suitcase, their work is no less demanding. Contours must hug the flesh that hugs the skeleton. Color blocks and herringbone, seams joining front and back laid flat through the perfect tension between top and bottom threads. The tangents of a garment lead to elbows and cuffs, as integral to the overall scheme as the exposed zipper or the slide of knife pleats over thighs. What matters is whether the design works. A casual observer will walk away satisfied while the one with churning thoughts wonders why the building angles into the sun, and whether that cocktail gown reveals the perfect flash of skin while leaving enough to the imagination. The writer wonders, how about that anti-hero’s mission to redeem himself? Ditto for the protagonist’s untested loyalty, the just-right dialogue, the scene where a reversal would seem sweet as summer jam.

It’s getting harder to read someone else’s story and not think to myself, This is where I’d show the pearl-handled revolver … over there is where she could slap him. And not just stories in books, but in films too. It is a curious thing to watch yourself watching how others ply their art, reminiscent of that wakeful sleep state where you know you’re dreaming and can choose to wake on cue. Weird, huh? Also useful, and impossible to alter. It struck again last week during my reread of “Vinegar Hill” (by A. Mansette Ansay), and as the film “August: Osage Country” played. During the latter came mental pop-ups: That’s a clue. Or, The perfect retort; now we know she’s just like her mother. Luckily, strong stories still bring pleasure, in spite of my analytic tic.

I guess I can say that the story bug seems a blessing. Well, a curse, too, but the good kind—the kind that complicates how the wheels turn, creating the blessing of the curse. So it seems. For now.

You can read more of Paula Riley’s work at


One comment

  1. More of Riley at ~ Good morning All, from Reno!

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