Back when I was participating in weekly poetry workshops with the Ash Canyon Poets in Carson City, Nevada, we had these things we called "found poems." Found poems could be anything from a portion of a news article to a billboard sign to graffiti to a classified ad. They were always written by someone else without the intention of being a poem, but to us these pieces of writing came across as poetry.
While collecting scrapbooks from my mother's house I came across a rare find that I'm calling a "found novel." While growing up, I knew that my grandfather had been an attorney at one point in time, but for as long as I had known him, he never worked. I was repeatedly given the impression that my grandfather was somebody special, because everyone respected him. Sundays were devoted to drinks and dinner with my grandparents, and everyone would sit around enamored by my grandfather's stories, except for me. I was usually sent outside to play.
When I entered college, I discovered that I had the ability to pull off the best grades in all of my science classes. This led me to consider majoring in forensic science, which was a relatively new science at the time. I remember my mother prodding me to talk to my grandfather about it first. When I brought up the proposition, my grandfather stared out at the world through his bay window for a very long time saying nothing. I knew he was hard of hearing and wondered if he had heard what I said. However, once he cleared his throat, I knew I was in for a lecture.
"No granddaughter of mine will ever go into forensic science!" he boomed.
I was horrified by his reaction. At the time I approached him, I thought he would be proud of me, but instead he put up this wall without explanation. I think I managed to squeak out a "Why?"
He went on to explain that there were some things I was better off not knowing. He said forensic science is all about blood and guts and bodily fluids. It was about learning the details of terrible things that people do to one another. He said I would be happier to choose another field of study.
I knew better than to ask him about his own experiences, because I had always been under the impression that his life was a secret and off limits to children. Now, nearly 25 years after his death, I have come across a scrapbook containing news articles and photographs from my grandfather's mysterious life. I learned that he was Deputy District Attorney of Los Angeles in the 1920's and 30's. He prosecuted charlatans, kidnappers, rapists and murderers. He worked for silent screen movie stars. His life was unique and fascinating.
Of course, as soon as I found this scrapbook, I couldn't contain my excitement, knowing that I have material for my next novel or perhaps even my next few novels. Unfortunately, most the people who he told his stories to have now passed away, so I will have to rely on other forms of research and probably fill in the blanks with fiction, which I prefer to write anyway. At least these newspaper articles give me a platform and some inspiration.