Culture Shock as Fodder for Writing

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An entire sub-genre of writing exists that zeroes in on people who leave their homes to set up housekeeping in radically different environments. The unfamiliar habits of the locals then make interesting and often amusing stories. Some of my favorites are offerings by Peter Mayle, Julia Child, Adam Gopnik and Frances Mayes. I love their books and often picture what it would be like to wake up and find myself in similar situations.

I’ve been thinking about this recently, while planning a trip to visit my daughters and their families in Texas. We lived there together, in what seems like another lifetime, after spending the beginning of our lives in Michigan. As the memories flood over me, I realize that I’ve lost sight of how alien everyday things sometimes seemed during those years. Many writers have experienced relocation to another culture, even if it’s not in France or Italy, and details of those experiences can add interesting twists to story plots.

For example, I remember the chuckles I received from several office mates one day in the “Lone Star State”, when I referred to stopping at the “party store for pop”. At the same time, I never understood why Texans called all soda pop “Coke”, no matter what the label said. At the end of a long workday, “See you guys” contrasted sharply with, “Bye, y’all”. There were differences wherever I turned. Due to the “Blue Laws”, sale of clothing on Sundays, at that time, wasn’t allowed, and many counties were “dry”, meaning they didn’t sell alcohol at all. Of course, the rich drawls and twangs took some getting used to, especially when my older daughter tried them on as her own. I had always thought of my speech as being just plain, but was told by my new friends that I spoke with a “funny accent”!

Travel outside the borders of one’s own state isn’t even required. Within Michigan, people living in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas have interesting differences in ways of speaking and in the foods they enjoy, just to name a few idiosyncrasies. If you’ve never tried cudighi, a type of sausage, or the meat pies called pasties, you still haven’t lived.

Do you think anyone will notice if I take notes during my Texas visit? I’ve forgotten so many of the cute little quirks and need a refresher for future writing!

For books about moves to parts unknown, my “Reading Lists” page details several authors with one of their titles, each, for starters.

There’s Magic in Them Thar Numbers!

by Becky Michael   4

I believe that numbers do embody something magical, which is probably a reason that the name Platform Number 4 felt like a good omen for my new blog. Countless authors of books and stories have based their titles or premises on something to do with numbers. Names of books range all the way from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (Ken Kesey) to One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), with Catch-22 (Joseph Heller) and Nineteen Minutes (Jodi Picoult) situated somewhere in between. They also include books for kids like Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (Judy Blume) and The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins (Dr. Seuss). The use of numbers as an actual concept is often quite subtle, sometimes showing up in novels built around elaborate codes and intriguing clues. Stories about multiples, likes twins and triplets, also seem to have wide appeal.

I never excelled in math, but numbers have always drawn me in like a magnet. I appreciate the logic, order and preciseness they can offer, or the mystery that often surrounds them. Accordingly, that same idea can help to build a framework for an author’s creation. My early chapter book, for which I’ve recently completed yet another full edit, features a little girl who’s hooked on numbers in the slightly OCD sense. I’ve had fun showing how powerful numbers are for her, including the negatives. My lucky number as a child wasn’t 4, but another one close enough to “touch”, and it remains a favorite to this day.

Thoughts on writing, getting published, and enjoying life’s everyday pleasures…

-by Becky Michael   4

Join me for a cup of tea, coffee or something stronger over a discussion of some possible shared interests before jumping back onto the road of life!

When I began planning this blog aimed at enhancing my platform, I came across the photo above that seemed to fit my needs in so many ways. In the first place, it was auspicious to find such a lovely photograph carrying the word “Platform”. Secondly, writing is actually my fourth career or “calling”. I spent many years as a full-time mother, followed by training and employment as an office administrator. I then furthered my studies to work as a teacher, happily ending up as a full-time writer. All of my life experiences up to this point are now funneled into this creative endeavor. Finally, I love the symbolism in the picture, of the solid ground where I now stand, with the towering mountain nearby still to be climbed.

Maybe you’re also working toward publication after age 50, possibly living in a somewhat remote area such as myself. Could be that you’re a retired educator, too, or enjoy reading, gardening, cooking or collecting vintage items. I’d love to see comments on my musings and hear from others with similar tastes, or with completely different outlooks to pique readers’ and my interests!