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A month or two ago I rewatched this excerpt of a Charlie Rose interview with David Foster Wallace, Jonathan Franzen, and Mark Leyner in preparation for a seminar I was teaching on Franzen, and was struck by what DFW says about writing allowing us to communicate with another person in a way we can’t just by talking. Nick’s post about the Colorado Collection presented by Stories on Stage reminded me of the kind of transformative magic they enact with every performance — they offer up written stories to be collectively consumed by an auditorium full of people, an experience that has no corollary that I know of, but to me it renders concrete Wallace’s point. The conversation becomes audible, visual, tactile, instead of happening between one writer’s pen and one reader’s silent imagination. One of our writing workshoppers, Beth Bell, experienced this first hand last month when her story was performed on stage (along with a program of stories by Faulkner, Charles Baxter, and Dorothy Parker–not bad company). She passed along the following short essay on how the whole thing went down. Thanks, Beth!
I had to suspend my disbelief on September 24, when my short story was read on the Su Teatro stage by an actor in front of an audience. A live audience. I heard some gasps, some sighs of relief, even a few fitting chuckles. People were actually responding to my story and it struck me for the first time that writers ultimately write for other people.
The most intelligent part of me says, “Well duh!” But the other 99.5 percent doesn’t always get for whom I’m writing. Is it for my small, hapless self, trying to cauterize yet another persistent, buzzing emotion? Or how about for my insatiable ego? Those kudos in workshops after all feel so good.
I confess that my story “Heart Dog,” which won the third annual Stories on Stage contest, is somewhat of a personal tribute to my dog that passed just days before I started the first draft. It was my way of sending him off, of telling him that there was nothing I wouldn’t have done for him. Maybe I’m once again pointing out the obvious here, but I’m beginning to understand that personal ideas are beautiful
and all but they don’t gain mass and interest until they move into the impersonal, the universal. Such a simple principle, one any writer should be able to identify in her own work. But I for one can’t and if I could, the very mind-boggling, head-banging but oh-so-fun pursuit of a good story would be zapped.
Lucky for me, Rachel Fowler (a local actor with New York credits) read my story as if it were a guitar just waiting for her strum. She indulged me with her deep emotion while at the same time taking the audience on a theatrical thrill ride. The story was hers to interpret and perform, which was another obvious lesson learned, but one that requires surrendering. “Heart Dog” was mine, all mine, as I wrote the early drafts but once I found out that it had won the contest, there was a two-week mad flurry of additions and revisions, all in an attempt to give my best to Fowler and our audience. Another “duh” moment, but I admit that I don’t reach unless I’m pushed and who better to push us writers than the audience (and advanced short story instructor Andrea Dupree). We just need to remember that people are out there and they’re waiting to hear our stories.