F. Scott Fitzgerald said “Find the key emotion; this may be all you need to find your short story.”
The key for me, when writing “What Would Your Mother Say” was not finding the emotion of the story, but finding the questions behind it.
Like much of my fiction, this piece has its roots in a news article—a short item about a toddler found wandering snowy city streets late one night. As I read it, I wondered what the child’s mother felt when she realized her child was out there in the dark, cold and alone.
“What Would Your Mother Say” began as a story about a mother living through that terrible situation. But the toddler insinuated her way into the story, and I found myself asking why any child might venture outside in the middle of a frigid night, and where her life might go from that moment on. Those questions led me to speculations about nature vs. nurturing. And finally to my simplified version of the chaos theory—that one small thing can set a life on a much different path than what the Fates may originally have intended.
Once I found the questions, or the questions found me, I found my story. “What Would Your Mother Say” took a much different path than I originally intended, but a path it was meant to take.
(Of course, my story is complete fiction. The real child was a curious venturer who climbed from her crib one night and discovered the kitchen door unlocked. She was found promptly and returned safely to her home. I’m sure she is a healthy, strong woman today, and still exploring new situations.)
Read “What Would Your Mother Say” in our current issue, or listen to the story via SoundCloud.