Friday, March 03, 2006

Little Girl Down the Way, or Maybe you don't want to know this!

My experience has been that when people ask, “Where do your ideas come from?” they really don’t want to know.

For instance: Eight years ago I wrote a story called "Little Girl Down the Way." I submitted it once and it came back. I wasn't surprised or disappointed. "Little Girl..." is a brutal story about the murder of a 7 year old who lived and died -- 40-plus years ago -- just down the way from my apartment in Chicago.

Her passion and death happened decades before I moved into the neighborhood but the Little Girl’s remains weren't unearthed until 9 years ago. The facts of the matter stirred me to write a story in which an unwanted child is hidden in a basement by her mother and, ultimately, is killed by her. The story is seen from the point of view of the little girl who, every day, awakens into the hell of an afterlife and re-lives the nightmare of her life and death. Day after day the years of torment are revisited but never does she give up on the notion that her mother loves her. The story, finally, is a view of how hell and heaven can be the same place in the same time depending on your point of view.

Unpublished, un-circulated, “Little Girl…” was content to live in my trunk. It had lots of company.

A few months ago, "Twilight Tales" asked if I had something they could produce as a podcast for their online magazine. I gave them a choice of one thing or another thing.

They chose the other thing: "Little Girl..." The producer, David Munger, did a great job with a difficult piece. Here's the url...go listen to it, I'll wait for you:


A short time after it was 'cast, I got a letter. A listener who wrote to say that the story disturbed him -- in the good way that horror should disturb you -- and that, as a father, he’d listened to it several times and found himself both moved and trembling each time.

I thanked him for his kindness and for taking time to write. In return, I gave him a few paragraphs on the background to the story -- just a bit more than I gave you above.

A return email said, in essence: Well! I'm sorry I know that, I thought this came out of your head!

He included a little electric *sigh* somewhere in there -- vexation I guess at finding my murdered Little Girl to be a child of the world not entirely of my imagination. The father in him didn’t want to know that such things happen.

Okay, his disappointment was my fault: I volunteered the information. I guess I understand but see, I think people really don't want to know where the ideas come from.

So, if you've listened to "Little Girl..." would you want to know how close to reality that piece was?

Let me know.


Hypatia said...

That's really a toss up.

I am generally inspired by real events but sometimes an idea comes bubbling up from the mish-mash that's my total experience.

My most successful stories have been from the Platonic realm of ideals and then I give them details until they are dirty enough to write about.

In the case of real events, especially one that is already so poignant, I think the job of the writer is to open up another dimension to the story -- one that no one can know and is necessarily then, the product of the writer's imagination.

I don't have enough formal writing education to know if there is a specific genre, but if not there should be -- the genre of explaining: how it came to be, why happened, how the participants coped or didn't. The genre of answering Why and How. It seems that your story is in that vein.

If your reader was disappointed that it wasn't ALL your imagination, then perhaps they don't realize how much imagination the Whys and Hows take. On the other hand, if he was disappointed that such things happen... well, perhaps he hides too much from the news and will be shocked by anything.

Rachel @

Larry Santoro said...


I'm jogged by the real or by the internal up-bubbling of a mish or mash of the historic, the forgotten, the imagined, the al. I think we all are -- writers or civilians.

What was so shocking to me with reagard to this comment was that it seemed to overlook the central fact of the story: the tale is told from the point of view of a dead girl. It is, essentially, a ghost story with eternal damnation and redemption at the end of it.

Yet, somehow, the guy who sent the note caught only the 'facts' of the case -- a girl was tortured and murdered by her mother -- and became disappointed by it. That or he was, as you suggest, terrified of life.

I like to know from where a writer gets the impullse. When I was doing Feral Fiction with Marty Mundt, I wanted to include a 'where did THAT come from" section from time to time... I guess that was just me, though.

Thanks for taking the time to respond!

Hypatia said...

I'm not sure where the drive comes, but I know I've felt the same drive to get out an idea in photography and quilting as I have in writing, heck even in mathematics.

I think life bits get stuck in my subconscious like a spiky seed pod. I'm not sure where or how I picked them up, but I gotta pull 'em out. And unless I make a specific effort not to, in pulling them out I will plant them and they will grow.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that you wouldn't tell your friends about this and force them to stumble blindly in cyberspace until they found it. Or is it just me?

Email me so I can tell you something about this post.

Your pal,

Anonymous said...


Glad to hear the podcast was moving and evoked emotions, even if contraversial. I hope I did the piece justice.

I certainly do understand the disturbed listener's disappointment to learn that things like this really can and do happen. Whenever I hear about child neglect or abuse it breaks my heart afresh, every time. God help me if I ever get used to it.

But that's what make a story like this so compelling.

- Dave M (following your link from