302 stories. Seven years. Probably thousands of comments on other people’s stories and replies to their comments on mine.
302 stories. Seven years. Probably thousands of comments on other people's stories and replies to their comments on mine.
For me the Retrospect experience has been divided into 2 eras, the Zussman era 2016-18 (starting as a beta tester with a confidentiality agreement, then being uncertain about whether I would still like writing when the site went public, and fortunately finding I did), followed by my own era 2019-22, when I took over the site with the able assistance of Laurie and Marian, later adding Barb. In the first era, I averaged 35 stories per year, because I didn’t always have a story that fit the prompt. In the second era, I averaged 50 stories per year, which means I wrote basically every week, except there must have been a few times that I either didn’t write, or just recycled an old story. [Note added 1/1/23: I just realized that we didn’t start up in 2019 until March 1, so there were 8 weeks with no stories. Mystery solved! I did write every week.]
At some point during the first year I got the idea of using song titles or lyrics for my story titles. Once I had that going on, I actually went back and changed the titles on some of my earlier stories. There are only about a dozen stories in my whole collection that don’t have titles consisting of song titles or lyrics. Sometimes other writers got into the act, either trying to predict what song I would use, or suggesting titles to me. For my story on the prompt Separating the Art from the Artist, I was planning to use “Take the Money and Run” since it was both a song and a Woody Allen movie. Then I discovered that John S. had alread used that title on another prompt, so I asked him what I should do. He suggested “Sympathy for the Devil,” which of course was perfect. On one of my stories on The New Year, I couldn’t quickly come up with a song, so I published it as “Closing Out the ’70s in my 20s.” Then Betsy, in the comments, suggested “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun,” which, again, was a perfect title, so I changed it. (On the same story, John Z. suggested “Party Like It’s 1999” which was also great, but not quite as apt as the Cyndi Lauper song.)
Once I took over the site, it was a joy working with Laurie and Marian to brainstorm prompt ideas, then write the text and find the images to inspire everyone’s stories. We had conference calls on the telephone, and then later on zoom, but I have never met either one of them in person! When we considered asking Barb to join us, I did arrange to meet her in Whittier first, to make sure she was as great as she seemed (she was!). Once she agreed to be part of the team, we discovered her incredible creativity in thinking of prompts, and especially in creating the images to illustrate them. So many times I would say to her, this picture is great, but could you just make it bigger/smaller/a different color/crop something out/add something in — and whatever it was, she would figure out how to do it! Other times I would say this picture is copyrighted so we can’t use it, can you create something similar? And she would do that too! I felt like she was my personal genie, and when I wished for something, no matter how far-fetched, she would give it to me.
And what are my thoughts about the contents of this wonderful website? I have written many stories that I love and am proud of, and I have also read many stories by other writers that I love even more, so it is impossible to make a list of favorites. But looking back at my own stories, I do have some favorite categories. And while I link to stories in some of those categories, they are not necessarily my favorites, they are just good examples of the points I am trying to make.
♦ Stories or prompts by which I discovered commonalities with other Retro writers. This happened most often in the first year or two. On the My First Car prompt, Betsy and I discovered that we had both started out with Plymouth Valiants, mine a ’66 and hers a ’67. From the Camp prompt I learned that Betsy and John Z. had gone to Interlochen, as I had, which perhaps should not have been surprising since they lived in Michigan and that’s where the camp was. In too many stories to list, Charlie and I discovered overlaps in our radical experiences of the Sixties and Seventies.
♦ Stories in which I started out with one memory, but then remembered other things while in the process of writing the story. Also in this category are stories where I learned something new by asking my sisters for their memories of a certain event, or where I discovered relevant facts via online searches. When I was writing on the prompt Family Trips, I not only asked my sisters what they remembered about our 1957 trip from Interlochen back to New Jersey via Canada, but also plotted the route we took on Google Maps to try to figure out how long it took and how we got to each place (The Surrey With the Fringe On Top). In my story on First Time Voting, I was actually able to find online exactly what was on my New Jersey ballot in November 1972 (Power to the People).
♦ Stories that caused me to dig up old photos. I am not well organized with my pre-digital photos, they are in big plastic tubs, still in the envelopes they were in when they came back from being developed. But in a few instances, I was able to dig back and find some choice pix. My son playing Little League (Take Me Out to the Ball Game), my daughter drawing all over her bedroom wall with friends at her ninth birthday party (Fixing A Hole), my husband and I cutting our wedding cake on the dining room table (Glory Days). Also, when writing about my summer in Mexico (Summer of ’66), I was able to find my old textbook, schedules, and a comic book from that summer (but alas, no photos).
♦ While generally I frowned on prompts that were not of the “think back” variety, I am so happy that we did a number of pandemic-related prompts, so that I have my Covid diary of five stories written over the course of a year (Losing A Whole Year and the previous 4 stories linked to there). Likewise, on the prompt Good Trouble, I am thrilled that I wrote a story about going to Georgia in January 2021 for the runoff election (Georgia On My Mind). Some of the details I included in all of those stories are already fading from my memory, so it is nice to have them written down to help me when I try to remember.
♦ One story that had a profound impact on me was the one on the Favorite Teacher prompt, because writing it inspired me to track down my fabulous first grade teacher, and then we traded letters (You Have Made A Difference and Fairy Tale Endings). I feel so lucky that I was able to reach her while she was still alive, considering that she was my teacher 66 years ago.
♦ Exactly four years ago today I wrote Turn, Turn, Turn, reflecting on my first three years of Retrospect and how distraught I was about the fact that the Zussmans were shutting it down. It’s a helpful recollection of what I was thinking when I decided I wanted to become the owner of the site.
♦ And finally, I have to tip my hat to Story Wranglers, the story written by John and Patti that explained their idea in founding the site, and their reasons for closing it down at the end of 2018. I encourage everyone who cares about Retrospect to read it.