What the Audience Knows

cropped-ramonagravitar.jpgIt is always a delight when a story finds a forever home, to borrow a phrase from the pet adoption world. “Voices” appears in the Summer 2017 issue of Philadelphia Stories, and I could not be more pleased to have my work in that fine publication.

Like most of my short works, this one came in a flash and brewed a while before it was ready for submission. The flash came while I was on retreat at a farmhouse owned by Franciscans and managed by nuns, a peaceful place visited by deer, chipmunks, blue jays, cardinals, squirrels, rabbits, a hawk. There were probably snakes and spiders lurking around, but they were thoughtful and stayed hidden.

My writing space was in the sun room. Off the back patio, a St. Francis statue held a tray filled with birdseed and bread. One morning, two deer families approached the feeder, warily eyeing each other, and then me as I sat stock still, watching them. Then the flash hit. It was an old memory from an old friend, of a deer that had rotted in a creek and poisoned the water.

Where did Michael come from? Maybe he was a child’s version of St. Francis feeding the creatures. Why did Delilah show up at his side? Maybe she was a future nun. Or…not. I did not yet know, but before I lost the idea, I quick-wrote a narrative outline about two children who find a dead deer in the woods. The story expanded as I wrote the outline. The children came alive. The woods felt real. The deer felt like a loss of life.

This is how you know when an idea is a story: it becomes real while you are writing it.

PS_Summer_2017_Proof3-1-200x268After “Voices” was published. I posted a link on Facebook, and my friend Josh commented: I hope he didn’t die in some jungle in Vietnam.

There is no time reference in the story other than a mention of chicken pox, but Josh nailed the time period. Though he would be a Buddhist and a pacifist, Michael, in my mind, would be the right age to be drafted and sent to Vietnam to fight. His innocence and pureness would be perfect for a story about an innocent and pure boy sent to some foreign, far-off land to die for a murky, at best, reason.

I had not thought about Michael’s fate beyond this story, but that comment changed that. Now I want to know. Does Michael die in some jungle in Vietnam? Or not? If so, how would Delilah remember her beloved older brother? I guess I will have to write more about them to find out.

The lesson? Listen to your audience. Sometimes they know more than you do.

To my writer friends: Has a reader comment ever led you to a new story—or made you expand a current one?

To my reader friends: Do characters become so alive to you that you wonder at their fate beyond what the author tells in the story?

6 thoughts on “What the Audience Knows

  1. My entire Zoe Chambers series exists because of my short story “A Signature in Blood.” A reader wrote to me and asked if we were going to see more of Pete and Zoe. The answer turned out to be “yes.”

    Liked by 1 person

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