It took me 10 years to write this story. The inspiration came when I dropped everything in New Brunswick, packed my worldly possessions into a blue trunk and headed across the country in a car that wanted to stay home. The engine all but fell out of it on Portage Avenue (the main downtown street) in Winnipeg during rush hour traffic. The rest of the trip was by bus.
It was on the bus, traveling through the bleak flat expanse of Saskatchewan that I saw a road going off the main highway. I saw a pole at the mouth of the road with a metal box on top. The lettering on the box was time and weather worn with some of the letters obscured, but I saw enough to give me the impression of the word DONATIONS.
For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why there would be a donations box out there in the middle of nowhere on a road that appeared to run endlessly into the horizon, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, especially on the trip back to New Brunswick on a bus filled with the noisiest, worst behaved kids I’ve ever encountered. They’ll be adults my now and I hope their lives are filled with half the trauma they inflicted on the passengers of that bus over four painful days traveling four thousand miles.
A few weeks after landing back in New Brunswick, the donations thing was still fresh in my mind and I had to come up with a reason for there being a donation box (even though it might have been something else) at that remote location. So I wrote about it. I made the box the springboard into a short story.
It came slow…slower than anything I’d written before so after a few weeks I put it away (The sheets of paper, of course. Back then, writers used typewriters.) and came back to it a few months later. This went on for years, during which time, I wrote dozens of other stories and a novel.
But I kept coming back to the story and I even had a name: The Nickel. Of course, it took a couple of years to come up with the name.
I spent a few years working as a bartender. One night, I brought the story in to work and during a slow period, I wrote on blank paper with a pencil. I wrote four pages, which I passed to three customers sitting at my bar who read the pages and commented. Just as I was coming into what I hoped would be the last page, the bar started filling up…fast.
I put the pages away and didn’t come back to them until years later when I was on a business trip to Toronto. By this time, I was an marketing and public relations manager for an IT startup. I rose early one morning and took my story pages with me to breakfast.
I started writing after a few sips of coffee and I couldn’t stop until I was finished.
I think I sat there for about five minutes, almost in shock. The story was finished. My eggs and bacon were cold but the story was finished.
It was first published by an ebook company in Australia as part of a ‘story of the week’ winner in a competition. It went over well, and was kept up for months after the week it was supposed to be available. About a year later, on the off chance that it would be accepted by a literary magazine, I submitted it to Project Letters, an international literary magazine, and it was accepted along with another story (the took just a week to write).