Bookstore-Owner-Turned-Author: William Petrocelli on Social Inspiration
Writing — particularly fiction writing — is a social craft. Every scene is a distilled, re-worked version of some observation I’ve had or some interaction with someone else during my lifetime. In The Circle of Thirteen, Julia Moro, who was then thirteen years old, is caught up in a huge peace march in San Francisco. The year is 2055, but it might as well be today. The protests, the placards, the chants, the visceral impact of that that peace march are pretty much the feelings I absorbed from those around me in 1969, when I marched to protest the invasion of Cambodia, or in 2003, when hundreds of thousands of us marched to protest the war in Iraq.
If you hang around a bookstore you realize that the social aspect of writing has several other dimensions as well. Certainly if you pick a book off a shelf and begin to read it, the impact of a well-written sentence or paragraph will impact your own writing. Do too much of that, and you’ll be charged with plagiarism. But if you don’t do enough, your writing will be flat and useless. Good writing, like good wine, warms your soul as it’s going down. Many writers, myself included, will stay away from other works of fiction while they are writing so that they don’t plagiarize inadvertently.
And books act in bunches. Pull one off a shelf, and the one next to it catches your eye with a phrase, setting, description, or human interaction that gets your own imagination flowing. And what’s true of books is true of other readers. It’s not at all uncommon in our bookstore to see several customers — or maybe the staff and the customer — arguing good-naturedly about a book. And you can multiply that interaction a hundredfold when authors make an appearance in the store for readings, classes, This happens hundreds of times a year at our bookstore, Book Passage. Each of these interactions with authors, staff, and customers adds to the plate of ideas that a future author has to draw upon.
- William Petrocelli
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