Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Stories found in the oddest places

Stories can be found in the oddest places.

Not the least of which is a hole in the ground. Or maybe not so much a hole, as box under some leaves.

The story of our find starts this past Sunday afternoon. My husband, sister, some-day brother in-law Will, and I were walking in the park. My husband John is an avid Geo-Cacher. For the uninitiated, Geo Caching is an activity which uses the gps on a smartphone to locate small hidden troves of random items throughout a community. Usually the hidden container holds useless trinkets, cards, or just a list you can sign once you've found the cache.

Rachel and Will had never heard of the activity, but joined in enthusiastically. Will was actually the first to spot a Tupperware covered in camouflaged duct tape beneath some fallen branches. It contained some small toys, a disposable camera (unfortunately with all the film used up), and a list, but to our surprise, someone had added a paperback children's book to the stash, sealed against water damage in a plastic bag.

 Rachel and John examine their find as Will looks on

Now, I've used GeoCaches before as a guerrilla marketing technique. Mostly to leave cards that promoted a web comic about zombies I maintained as a goofy side project because I figured surely there would be a geeky intersection between people who like treasure hunting and zombies. But it never occurred to me to stuff in an entire book. I examined the book before we made John read it out loud to us there on the bike path.

The title of the book was Mrs. McNosh and the Great Big Squash. Now, you would think I'd be willing to lower my expectations a bit for a book that was found abandoned in the woods. If it were an independent or self published book, I was prepared to applaud the author's creative marketing endeavor. But as we read the book, it became clear to me that it was donated to the Geo Cache because the previous owner wouldn't be all that sad to part with it. It wasn't very good. The idea was sort of cute, but I've seen other artists execute it better. The rhyme scheme was amateurish and sounded like a fourth grader wrote it. Once that assessment was made, I was even more irritated to find that it was not a first book effort by some self-publisher but had been printed by Schoolastic!  

I guess it's not really fair to a book to put it in this sort of situation. But when you go on a treasure hunt, which is basically what a Geo Cache is, you expect to find treasure! Not pirate gold or jewels, but something precious. Something worth hunting for, something that would truly be a surprise. Otherwise, it's just junk. And not cool junk that appeals to your inner child or inner Smeagol as the case may be (I found it, it came to me! Precious!) I mean Real junk. 

Again, I'm probably being unreasonably harsh. If a parent with a child stumbled over a book in a park on a beautiful day, a story would probably be a welcome addition to the day while small feet rested after playing hard and walking quite a long trail. But my inner writer and artist thinks it could have been better! A reminder to make sure your work is Treasure. Will it enchant your reader? Will they count it as precious to them? Will they feel the thrill of ownership when they pick it up off the shelf? Will they think This is mine, I found it!

But hey, sometimes the true Treasure isn't the material thing you find, it's the ideas that fill your head as the box is being opened. The find inspired me to go home and work on a few ideas about treasure hunts and mystery boxes for PiBoIdMo. So, even though we followed the rules and returned the book to the place we found it, I went home with pockets jingling with ideas and determination. A day well spent.

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