Aug 20

Writing Lessons from Mom – Conflict

WHAT’S PLAYING: Pink! “Fucking Perfect


I have a terrible temper. My dad says I’m just like my mother—a 6-foot stick of dynamite with a 2-inch fuse.



Despite our shared anger management issues, you’d be hard pressed to lure my mother into an argument. To understand why, you have to go back a couple of hundred years…to the days of the traditional Choctaw duel.

This wasn’t your typical pistols-at-dawn affair. Choctaw duels were a bit more decisive.

The disputants would face one another across the village square, and then their assistants—usually a brother or close friend appointed for the occasion—would split their heads open with an ax. The dispute was resolved, and the community didn’t have to put up with incessant bickering.

My people are nothing if not practical.

Another incident of Choctaw dispute resolution involves the legendary chief, Pushmataha. Having been insulted by General Henry Knox, Chief Pushmataha bought a barrel of gunpowder and fitted it with a fuse. He sat on the barrel, lit a cigar, and invited the general to sit beside him. Knox declined and never insulted Pushmataha again. Nor did any other American general.



Despite this culturally inspired aversion to conflict, I often find myself embroiled in pointless arguments.

You see, I like to be right. Moreover, I like to prove that I’m right. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent trolling the internet or leafing through obscure reference books just to win an argument that any reasonable person would have already forgotten.

While this almost psychopathic need to prove myself has played holy hell with my personal life, it’s served me well in my writing.

As any writer will tell you, you can’t have a story without conflict, whether it’s inner, outer, preferably both. You have to have conflict in order to tell a decent story. It’s that simple.

What it isn’t, however, is easy. I’ve learned the hard way that handling conflict well in real life does not translate to being able to do the same in writing. Like my ancestors, I’d much rather write (or be involved) in a physical altercation, than explore my characters’ (or my own) feelings.



Still, dealing with emotions and the different faces of humanity is part of what it means to be a writer. So, while my relatives are solving disputes with the threat of skull bashing and explosions, I’ll save my more violent tendencies for the page.

But, if you see me stalking towards you with an axe in one hand and a reference book in the other….




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Permanent link to this article: http://www.jacquitalbot.com/2012/08/writing-lessons-from-mom-conflict/


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  1. Melinda VanLone

    Wow, that seems like an extreme way to settle an argument! Yikes! I can see some spots today where that could come in handy though. Politicians come to mind lol

  2. Bob

    Hello, As a part-time actor, who portrays Henry Knox for a variety of historical acting companies, as both the General and the Secretary of War, I have never come across the incident you describe. Trust, me I have read a lot. Can you give me the source for the incident you describe regarding the keg of powder and Knox? Thanks.

    1. JacquiTalbot

      My only sources are the stories and legends I heard while growing up on the rez. I don’t know if this “alleged” incident ever made it into the history books. Sorry! 🙂

    2. William

      u will not read these accurate recollections because of the ethnocentric based hx. I have read these stories of Chief Pushmahtaha, and have come to know these as truth. I have read stories by the royal family themselves denying defeats at the hands of the civilized tribes. I have also read of the Spanish denying defeats from the Chickasaw. Everyone loves the American Indian until you have to honor their god given rights of land ownership. I also like tigers, as long as they are in a cage.

  3. William

    part time actor must be an expert. I’m sure he has done plenty of research regarding the Choctaw Nation. Have some dignity man, you don’t care about the truth. Throw some facts out indian giver!

  4. Bob

    For those of you who were rational enough to offer an opinion and not to attack my question, I thank you.

    1. JacquiTalbot

      I’m sorry if you felt attacked. It was a fair question, and I tried to answer it honestly. Every group/tribe has its own version of history, and each one deserves respect.

      1. Carla

        I also believe history has its own perspective, depending on who is telling it, and each does deserve respect!
        I feel a sisterhood both in lineage and–let’s call it–debate 😉 You have described me to a T.
        Just recently, my brother-in-law was doing our family genealogy, and we believe from the paper trail that Pushmataha is my very-great uncle…in every sense!

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