"I've had such an interesting life, it could write a book."
I don't know about other writers, but when I hear that sentence uttered as a preamble by someone I can neither knock unconscious nor outrun, I find it only slightly less frightening that "I've had the weirdest dream; it should be a movie." Sometimes it's not the person's whole life. Sometimes it's the antics of their child(ren), or an uncanny encounter involving a florist and an acrobat, or what they had to go through to get the insurance company to pay for their rather amusing accident with the piano, or homilies their grandmother used to share while cleaning her rifle. If you're a writer at some point someone is going to tell you about something in their lives.
I'm not talking about the "I've got a great idea for a story. You can write and we'll split the profits." people. I'm talking about the ones who really believe the world wants to hear about the unusual things their twins do with pineapples and Chihuahuas.
This happens more frequently when you become older and are not as able to gracefully evade as you once were. Not to mention the people talking to you tend to be older – and have more life behind them to talk about. You get used to making non-answer noises, recommending they Google guides to writing their memoirs and/or adept a feigning sleep until they go away.
Then once in a great while – or in my case, once in my lifetime (so far) – you meet someone whose life really has been interesting. Someone whose story you'd like to tell.
I flea market because my wife and daughter coupon. Not the four buggies full of groceries for 18¢ type extreme couponing you see on TV, but they're disappointed if they spend more than ten cents on the dollar. Couponing for them involves a dozen Sunday papers, six hours of planning, and organized folders of clipped coupons. Rather than let the house fill with boxes of products we don't really need, I hit the flea market every couple of weeks with a wide selection of hair dyes, shampoos, lotions, cleaning products, and whathaveyous for sale at half WalMart's price. For a guy who spends six to ten hours a day, six days a week, sitting alone in a room typing, meeting a few hundred folks I'd never see otherwise can make for a pretty diverting Saturday morning.
A flea market can become a village of sorts, with the regular vendors forming a casual community of gossip and tall tales. Which is how I came to know a guy a few years older than I (there are some) whom everyone calls Sarge. Sarge grew up in New York orphanages and foster homes, joined the Marines in time to spend several tours in Vietnam, became a street cop after retiring from the Corps, working in several major cities before finally retiring from the Miami force. Sarge loves the south, hates southerners, studies history on the internet, converses on forums in Vietnamese, and augments his various pensions by selling knives, stun guns, pellet rifles, and commemorative military paraphernalia at flea markets.
I dismissed the stories he told as tall tales until he challenged me to check one out on the internet. And it checked out. So. He knew I was a writer – another vendor had downloaded pirate copies of some of my work and confirmed my claim. Sarge doesn't give a damn about fiction, but he's fascinated by first-hand accounts of historical events and it didn't take long for our conversations to segue into discussions about me writing down the things he'd seen and been part of.
Of course I've never done anything like this. A quick survey of the many "we'll help you write your memoirs" sites revealed they were all vanity operations designed to make money off the mark. (Excuse me, off the fascinating person whose life story they are uniquely qualified to immortalize.) I wanted to call everyone to whom I'd ever mentioned these sites and apologize.
However, there are resources out there, guides to conducting interviews and the like, and many examples to which we could refer in figuring out how to move forward. Sarge was surprised there are contracts for this sort of work, but saw the wisdom of spelling everything out, and we've worked out the ground rules and general shape of the finished project. I've even upgraded my recording equipment (it's getting hard to find cassettes these days, anyway).
At this point I have no idea how we'll get through this, or whether "this" will result in a manuscript anyone will buy, but it has all the earmarks of an interesting journey.
If nothing else, the next time someone tells me how interesting their life has been, I'm going to listen to at least the end of the sentence before pretending to fall asleep.