Archive for April, 2011
Perhaps the biggest mistake writers make is not considering who their audience is. Without an answer to the question “Who am I writing for?” a writer WILL not succeed.
The answer may simply be, “I’m writing for myself.” Actually, most writers write for themselves, if not all of the time, at least much of the time. There is nothing wrong with doing that, but if a writer wants others to read her/his work, the writer also must write for those potential readers—the audience.
If the writer hopes to favorably touch his audience, she/he must know who the potential readers are, what they are interested in reading, and what touches their emotions.
Increasingly, it is difficult to write for a general audience. General audiences are hard to find in our modern society. Audiences under thirty years of age require difference references and have different thoughts and emotions, have had different recent experiences, and different expectations than audiences over fifty. For example, even in the broad category of mystery stories, age matter. People under thirty expect protagonists and probably villains to be familiar with and use the latest technologies and social networks, but many people over fifty aren’t comfortable reading about clues or developments involving Tweeter, Facebook, and other recent developments. In my recently published collection of short stories Hoosier Hysteria, Sons, and Other Stories, I included stories I had written in the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s. For a number of the stories, I rewrote sections to bring them up to date. When I wrote the story “The Mysteriously Missing Murder” in the 1980’s, newspaper reporter Brad Reilly used pay phones and typewriters. In the updated version, he uses cell phones and computers. In a few instances, I decided a story would be damaged by referring to modern technology, so I set them in an early period when such technologies didn’t exist. I realized that doing this might make the stories less appealing to a younger audience, but in some instances there was a tradeoff between keeping the story line pure and bringing the story up-to-date. I hoped the stories in the book that were up-to-date (some stories are even set in the future) would satisfy the younger audience.
Of course, a writer can attempt to give readers a very brief description of a modern technology or social activity to help the older audience members understand them, but sometimes such descriptions get in the way or frustrate younger people who think “I knew that” or “that’s not quite right,” and such descriptions may not satisfy the older reader.
There are other audience demographics that may affect how a story is received. Women and men often like the same kind of fiction, but there are kinds of fiction women like more than men and vice versa. A writer might decide to be gender neutral or to write for a gender specific audience. Whatever the write decides, it should be a thought out strategy.
The same is true for race. For example, young Hispanics who are recent residents in the United States have had quite different experiences than older white and black Americans who have lived their entire lives in this country. Thus, stories that might touch older black and white readers might not touch young Hispanic readers. And of course, while many black and white Americans have had similar life experiences, many others have had quite different ones. Aiming for the general audience will work in some cases, but not in all.
Geographics can also be an issue. In one story in my book, “Hoosier Hysteria,” a teenage boy wants to impress a cheerleader at his high school, so he hopes to become his school’s star basketball player during Hoosier Hysteria, the Indiana state high school basketball tournament. Everyone from Indiana and many from surrounding states know what Hoosier Hysteria is and how important it is to Hoosiers. However, a reader in Arizona is unlikely to be familiar with the term or the importance of the tournament. So even though the climax of the story is set in the tournament, I setup the story with a number of experiences to which readers from anywhere in the United States can relate. Thus, although Indiana residents may get more from the story, its climax works for readers regardless of whether or not they had fore knowledge of the term “Hoosier Hysteria” or its importance.
What do readers want and need from fiction? People read for different reasons. Years ago, a college instruction asked a group of students who read a lot and who hoped to be writers what satisfied them and justified their efforts in reading fiction. Mostly, the class settled on four things—mood (though the class had trouble defining what mood was), vicarious existence, intellectual exercise, and purpose. The class discussed these four and a number of other “legitimate” reader needs without coming to agreement on which was most important. That was probably because different readers have different needs. Then a student in the back of the room who was not a good writer but was an avid reader said the most important thing in fiction to him was “contact.” Nearly everyone in the class agreed that contact was basic and universal.
What does “contact” mean? It means a story is on a subject that interests the reader or the story touches the reader in some intellectual, emotional, or spiritual way. So, to aim a story at an audience or to find an audience for a story, the writer know what interests and what touches the audiences.
Reader contact can be made with a story’s subject. Avid Civil War fans will read almost anything on that subject. Readers fascinated by the high seas and pirates will read everything they can on those subjects. The same is true for hundreds of subjects. P.G. Wodehouse, who wrote ninety-three novels and hundreds of short stories, penned dozens of stories for avid golfers. Written decades ago, those stories are still enjoyed by old and young golf enthusiasts. My story Hoosier Hysteria is about a teenage boy’s first bout with love and is set during the Indiana state high school basketball tournament. Many readers enjoy stories about young people “coming of age” and others love to read sports stories. My story Next Time by Fire will interest readers concerned about the environment. Whatever subject you write about, your goal is to find those who are interested in that subject.
Characters also contact readers. A character can be a general hero; a hero to a specific group; admired for her/his intellect, courage, sacrifice, or for some other trait; admired for her/his romance, sensitivity, or dedication; sympathetic because of her/his circumstance; feared for some reason; or can be charismatic for many other reasons. Wodehouse wrote several novels and many short stories about Bertie Wooster and his man-servant Jeeves. Bertie was lovingly daffy and time-and-again depended upon Jeeves’ fish nourished brain to get him out of difficulties related to romance and the police. In my story The Mysteriously Missing Murder, many readers will be drawn to protagonist Brad Reilly, journalism’s answer to Inspector Clousea. Readers will also be drawn to Sadie and Beverly in The Death of Sadie Wilson.
A location or time period may contact many readers. Many readers enjoy stories set in exotic foreign lands, while other readers crave stories set in certain time periods, such as the nineteenth century, the 1920’s, or ancient Rome.
The writer’s job is to craft stories that touch the audience’s interest, have captivating characters, and touch readers in other ways. To do this, the writer must know the audience.
Knowing your audience is particularly important if you want to write to make money. People will only buy what they like. You may like what you write, but others also must like it before they will buy it.
Even if you share your writing with family and friends, if you want to make money writing, they are not your audience. And they are poor critics. They will either praise everything you write, even the bad, or they will nitpick your writing, pointing out spelling errors, listing punctuation errors, and telling how they would write something, until you are discouraged or distracted. Someone once said, “There is nothing more passionately embraced than the opportunity to edit the work of others.” If only a fifth of those who made suggestions knew what they were talking about.
If you want advice on writing, join writers’ groups. They are everywhere and are on the Internet. But even in these groups, listen to others but be yourself. Always keep in mind, you are the writer. You are the creator. If you have talent, it will blossom and show. But even with talent, if you are to succeed as you develop stories, consider who would be interested in them and then tailor your story to that audience.
This is particularly true for new and less well-known writers. There’s a good chance there are people out there who will enjoy reading what you have written. The problem is finding them. Today, the Internet and other technologies make that more possible, but it is a lot easier and cost effective if you target your audience.
If your audience is interested in or touched by your story, they will stay with it even during difficult parts. Less interested readers will give up and likely not come back to read more of your work. A non-fiction example of this is how a reader plows through any complexity of words, signs, or hieroglyphs to learn about a scientific subject that interests him. The same holds true for those who read fiction. If the subject or story touches them, readers will stay with the writer even during parts of a story that is difficult to read. Years ago, one experimentally minded newspaper editor ran articles about a sensational paternity case involving a widely known figure of the entertainment world with small headlines on back pages of the newspaper in an attempt to hide them from readers. Still, surveys showed readers sought out the stories and read them. People will read what interests them regardless of how difficult it is to find or read. The converse is also true. People won’t read what doesn’t interest them, regardless of how easy it is to find or how well it is written.
Having said that, readership surveys show the easier something is to read, the more likely it will be read. Know your audience and write about subjects that interest and touch them, but write for them in a simple, easy to read manner. Readers like shorter sentences and shorter and non-abstract words. Action words are appealing to readers, particularly for the younger and less sophisticated readers. Sometimes a writer must deal with abstracts rather than action. If so, she/he must do so knowingly. In Sons (from my book), the story I was telling was about the agony of a parent choosing which of his family members would die. I could have written a similar story but solely as an action piece. Had I done so, that story might have had a broader appeal. I wanted to examine the agony a parent would suffer when facing such a choice. I knew the audience for my story would be a more thoughtful one and would be a smaller one than an action story. Writers can make such choices, but they should do so knowingly. When I made my decision to include Sons in my book, I knew that others stories in the book would appeal to a broader audience.
Still, once a writer decides who his audience is, she/he should write in as simple and clear language as possible. I did this in Sons.
The “stop theory” of writing says that when a reader has to stop and think about what she/he has just read, the stop interferes with the reader’s interest. Too many “stops” cause readers to lose interest and stops reading. Interest killing stops are bad from any kind of writing. They are deadly for fiction. Reader may work through difficult language in a computer manual, but mostly readers choose fiction for entertainment. If they loose interest, they stop reading.
Research has shown that the reading level of material, not the intellect of the reader, determines what readers will tolerate. Many great and enduring pieces of literature were written at a low “grade school level.” Many were written at the sixth grade level, and many more at the seventh and eighth grade level. For example, consider Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Ben-Hur, and Gone with the Wind. None of these were written above the eighth grade level. The well educated reader will read something written at the sixth grade level, as long as it is well written and it is on a subject that interests her/him. The educational level of the reader determines how much she/he gets from the writing, not whether she/he will read it. Consider the writing of James Thurber, who used simple language but wrote with great sophistication. A child could read The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and get the meaning of its sentences but would miss overtones that have made the story a classic. Despite its simply language, the book has been read and enjoyed by generations of well-educated readers.
Research shows that readers do not choose to tax themselves to their fullest reading ability. There is little reason they should. Nearly any subject in fiction can be written about in or below the mid high school level. If an author understands her/his subject, he can treat it in simple language that conserves the reader’s energy and holds his interest.
To succeed at writing, know your audience, write to touch them, and use simply, clear language.
The general facts you are about to hear are true, but I have changed the names and a few of the details to protect the innocent—or the guilty, whatever the case may be.
I clearly remember the Monday when David Appleby came to us at lunch and asked if any of us wanted to buy one very slightly used copy of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. He said we could have it for a good price.
David Appleby was a member of the gang we hung around with at Indiana University, so we knew he had only purchased the large volume the Friday before, and we knew it was unlikely he had used it much.
But wait, I=m getting ahead of my story. Let me begin at the beginning—with David Appleby.
I bet some of you have known guys like David Appleby. He was one of those fellows who fell madly in love with girls about five times a day. If David met a young woman, odds were better than ninety-seven percent he would fall in love with her. We estimated that of the fifteen thousand young women at Indiana University back then, David had been madly in love with more than eleven thousand. And our guess was he had not met the other four thousand.
Although he was part of our group at the university, it would be misleading to suggest David Appleby was actually involved in academic work there. Oh, each semester he registered for three or four classes—tuition paid by his rich parents. And he attended each class a couple of times, but while in class, he daydreamed about the latest girl he loved. Soon he realized he was hopelessly behind in the course work, so he dropped the classes with plans to retake them the following semester. And he spent the next several months falling in and out of love with this girl and that girl.
For the most part, the girls didn’t seem to mind David=s fickleness, because few of them ever returned his affection. On a good day, David was generally presentable, but on a bad day, his face resembled that of a sickly bass gasping for something with which to fill its lungs. More importantly, women usually expect men to have, in addition to broad shoulders and a chin that sticks out to here, substantial amounts of soul and intellect. Of course those expectations are unrealistic and have led to the end of many romances and have been the cause of friction between men and woman since that time many years ago when Eve turned to Adam and told him that when he had finished cleaning out the garage, raking the yard, and dusting his den, he should skip the football game on TV and read a bit of poetry instead.
As for David Appleby, his soul was only as thick as construction paper. His intellect was half that thick.
Anyway, David came to us one Friday evening and said he had met the perfect woman. He said that had heaven dropped down a form for him to fill out so he could order the ideal woman, and had he filled it out and returned it, heaven would have sent him Cecilla Washingham-Thistlebottom. And smiling from ear to ear, he said, AThat=s just what heaven has done.@
AWhat=s that?@ we asked.
ASent me Cecilla Washingham-Thistlebottom,@ he chirped.
AWho=s that?@ we asked.
AThe girl that I love,@ he sang.
We were finally able to extract the facts. Frotham Washingham-Thistlebottom, Cecilla=s father, was a professor of English literature at Cambridge University. If like David Appleby you don=t know where Cambridge University is located, let me set you straight on the fact that it is located somewhere in England. Old man Frotham had been invited to be a guest lecturer at Indiana University for a month, and he had brought his daughter, Cecilla, with him.
Our story began on a Friday afternoon with David in the Student Union Building, where he saw at some distance a young female sitting at a table drinking a soda. Of course, David fell madly in love with her. But before he could get across the room to pledge his eternal love to her, some chap sat down at her table. David felt the chap=s presence might make his declaration of love somewhat awkward. He was probably right on that score. Anyway, David checked his watch for the time, because he assumed the young woman might return at the same time on the morrow. If she did, David would be waiting there to notify her of their coming wedding plans.
The time noted, David bolted from the building and across Dunn Meadow. He admits he was still thinking about the woman left behind and was not paying close attention to the scenery and obstacles in front of him.
It so happens that one of those obstacles was Cecilla Washingham-Thistlebottom. She was sitting in the meadow reading when David toppled head over heals over her—literally and figuratively. When David had disentangled himself from her and discovered what a work of heaven he had tripped upon, his eyes popped out on their stems and his lower jaw scraped on the ground. After shoving his eyes back into their sockets and lifting his jaw off the grasses of Dunn Meadow—and David admitted those tasks were not easily accomplished–, he introduced himself. Cecilla, who has the heart of an angel, forgave David=s clumsiness. David felt an explanation was in order, but although no intellectual giant, he realized the truth that he had been preoccupied with thoughts of another woman was not a good idea if he was to win the heart of this heaven-sent female. And it was David’s intention to win her heart.
AI was lost in thought about,@ David began. But then he realized the sentence needed an end, so the issue being hotly discussed in his pea-sized brain was, Awhat end should he put on the sentence?@
Just then his eyes fell upon the book Cecilla had been reading. It was The Sonnets of William Shakespeare. Although David wasn’t sure what a sonnet was and wasn’t familiar with this Shakespeare fellow, he had heard others talk about him. If he wrote books, David reasoned, he must be an author or something. So having found what he thought was the perfect end to the previously started sentence, David said, AI was lost in thought about William Shakespeare=s latest griping tale.@
Cecilla must have thought this was American slang, because she reacting positively to David=s remark, saying, AYou mean you like Shakespeare?@
AOf course. Who doesn’t?@ David said.
AWell, many young men don=t seem to appreciate him.@
AThey=re sods,@ David said with emotion.
Cecilla must have thought she had found a twin soul, but she needed to make sure. AWhich of Shakespeare=s works do you like best?@
ALike best?@ David said. AI like them all. To suggest some are best, is to suggest some are not best, which is a horrid thing to say about someone like Shakespeare.@
AOh, how wonderful you are, and how deep you are,@ Cecilla said.
Well, me and the guys think she must have suffered a concussion when David toppled over her, and we’re certain she couldn’t clearly see David=s face—perhaps the concussion had affected her vision or a cloud had darkened the sky.
Whatever the case, Cecilla was enough taken in that she invited David to dinner with her father the next night. David readily accepted. Then Cecilla told David she had to leave, because she had an appointment in ten minutes. David wished her well with her appointment and said he would see her Saturday night.
When they had parted, David rushed to the Indiana University Book Store, where he purchased The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. He had expected to breeze through Shakespeare=s works before his dinner with Cecilla and papa Washingham-Thistlebottom on Saturday evening. When he bought the book, David didn’t know whether Shakespeare penned who-done-its, romance novels, science fiction, or that more mysterious group of books in which people said deep but mostly incomprehensible things, but for the love of Cecilla, David was willing to burn the midnight oil.
When, after dinner on Friday night, David opened the cover to his newly purchased volume, he was shocked. He hadn’t realized this Shakespeare fellow wrote in a foreign language. Oh, David recognized some of the words, he said, but they seemed all jumbled up.
Now, I have made light of David=s intellect, but I don’t suggest he had none. On Saturday morning, David was up at eleven o=clock, and after stuffing a substantial breakfast down the old gullet, he was off again to the book store, where he purchased the Cliff Notes on Hamlet. And after several hours of intense study, he had grasped the gist of the story. Fortunately, the notes provided a few of the more well-known quotes from Hamlet of the “To be or not to be@ nature.
Because David=s car was in the shop, Cecilla picked up David at his apartment and drove him to her father=s rented house in one of the nicer parts of Bloomington. Naturally, the primary topic of the dinner discussion was that hound Shakespeare. David said he let Cecilla and papa Frotham do most of the talking, and when asked his opinion, David couched his answers in terms of Hamlet. It might not have gone so well had not papa Frotham said they had to cut the evening short, because he and daughter had to practice a presentation they were to make the next morning for the University Chapel.
David, who delighted to have the subject changed from Shakespeare, said he understood, and as he was an experienced speaker himself, he would be happy to provide papa Frotham and Cecilla with a pointer or two, if they so desired.
AYou are an experienced speaker?@ Frotham asked somewhat impressed.
AOh yes,@ David said, Avery experienced.@ Perhaps telling barroom stories to a large gathering of friends at the local pub on Kirkwood Avenue would not have qualified David as an experienced speaker in Frotham=s eyes, but it did in David=s eyes.
ADon=t you get nervous?” Frotham asked. “I admit I do.A
ANo, I never get nervous,@ David assured him. AIt is all in the preparation. If you are properly prepared, you don=t get nervous.@ Here, by properly preparation, David meant a few glasses of the pubs best as a means to avoid nervousness, but he didn’t so specify. Still, he had the feeling he had hit upon a topic that impressed his future father-in-law, and so David added, AI have given many a talk at church myself.@ David failed to mention he had not done so since he was eight years old. But he forged on, ASo, if you need any advice, feel free to ask.@ David was sure helping his future father-in-law prepare for his Chapel presentation would win him some points.
Perhaps it did. Maybe all this was too much for papa Frotham—a prospective son-in-law who was an expert in Shakespeare, who was an expert public speaker, who had no fear of audiences, and who had often spoken in church. Anyway, he warmed to David.
And then an idea struck papa Frotham. AWhy don=t you help Cecilla and me make our presentation at Chapel tomorrow?@
Suddenly David realized danger lurked on the horizon. AI would love to but …@ David began but no end to the sentence came to mind. He recalled that when he had first met Cecilla, he had started a sentence that seemed to have no end. At that encounter, the book Cecilla had been reading inspired an end to the sentence. But in his conference with papa Frotham, no inspired end to the sentence came to him. He stood there with his mouth gaping open, doing his most inspired imitation of a large mouth bass.
If papa Frotham saw or appreciated David’s fish imitation, he didn’t say. His mind was on his fear of public speaking and on his Chapel presentation the next morning.
AI insist you join us,” thundered Frotham Washingham-Thistlebottom. “Your expertise will add much to our presentation.@
Later, David told us he could hardly turn down his future parent=s plea. So now it was David=s turn to try to shorten the evening. AWell, I need to do some preparation … er, do some research. I need to go by the library,@ David told Cecilla and papa Frotham.
Cecilla asked if David would mind borrowing her car to drive himself home, because she needed to stay with her father and practice for their Chapel presentation. David said he would be delighted to drive himself. Father and daughter beamed broadly at David, patted him on the back, and said their Agoodnights.@
For once, David was telling the truth. He drove by the library and right to the Owl’s Perch, one of his favorite pubs, where he planned to do some preparation for his part in the Sunday Chapel presentation.
It so happened that our gang was populating the Owl’s Perch when David arrived. We saw him come in the door and waved at him. David joined our group, and right away, we could see he needed something to buck up his soul—what little soul he had. He didn’t provide us with any details that evening. Instead he got his elbows busy providing his soul the needed bucking up.
Well, you know how Saturday nights on college campuses are. You have a few drinks at a pub called the Owl=s Perch and a few drinks at a pub called the Hungry Eye and a few drinks at a pub called O=Dool=s and a few drinks at a pub called the Shamrock and a few more drinks …. Well, you get the picture. When closing time came, we were all fairly happy and tottled on back to our caves—all but David.
David stood where we had left him outside a pub named Daisy=s Dreamworld, and he was thinking. He was thinking he had forgotten something. It only took about fifteen minutes for him to remember what he had forgotten—Cecilla=s automobile. David remembered that when the evening had begun he had Cecilla=s automobile, but now for the life of him, he couldn’t remember what he had done with it. He was certain it was not in any of his pockets, because he had checked each of his pockets three times. Still, the mystery remained, what had become of it? Could it have run off on its own? Was it playing a game of hide and seek with him? Whatever the answers to those question were, they were unknown to David.
And he asked himself one more question: What should he do about Cecilla’s missing auto? He must find it of course, but how? He didn’t know the answer to that question, but he knew he needed help. David decided that we (his drinking buddies for the evening) would be of no help to him, because although we had been very happy when we had left him, we had not been very clear headed. He was right, of course. In fact, I freely admit that when we left Daisy’s Dreamworld, we had been having trouble finding the sidewalk under our feet.
Inspiration came to David. He pulled his cell phone from a pocket and called the Bloomington Police Department. Telling the police that he had misplaced the car would not likely get them to spring into action, so David told them the car had been stolen. He gave them his name and phone number and a description of the car.
Having solved the problem of Cecilla’s missing auto, David happily strolled down the street singing a popular song. Life was good, he thought. It was a beautiful, warm September night with a crescent moon and about a billion stars winking at him, and his wedding plans with the most lovely woman heaven had ever participated in creating were nearly finalized. Who could ask for more? No one could, was David’s answer.
But after strutting some more and singing another popular song, David stopped short. He remembered that many of his previous romantic plans had come to naught. That didn’t bother him, for none of the previous women he had loved could compare to Cecilla. Next to her, they were like freshman English students, David told himself, compared to this Spakesteer fellow, or whatever his name was.
What did worry David was the possibility of a fly being in the potato soup. A fly in minestrone soup isn’t a problem, because you can’t see it, David reasoned. But you can see a fly in potato soup, David realized, and what he wanted to know was, could there be a fly in the potato soup of his wedding plans with Cecilla.
And he saw the possible fly in the soup. Bloomington’s finest in blue might not find Cecilla’s car. He knew Cecilla loved him devotedly, but her missing auto could become a sore point between them. He worried that through the years of their otherwise happy marriage, the issue of him misplacing Cecilla’s car might chafe. The subject might crop up at anniversary dinners year after year, lending a coolness to otherwise romantic festivities. Perhaps from time to time their children would look up at him as ask, “Father, how did you misplace mother’s automobile those many years ago?” Maybe even grandchildren would ask the question.
No, David decided, he could not let the car go unfound. It must be located at all cost. But how? He had no idea where he had mislaid it. Then another idea came to David.
Women were always saying they didn’t mind faults in their men, as long as their men were honest. So David decided to be honest at three o’clock in the morning. He decided to call Cecilla and tell her he had misplaced her car and ask her to come help him find it. She wouldn’t be happy, of course, but she would be pleased with his honesty. More importantly, she would help him find the auto, which would prevent all those marital and parental problems of the future that he so worried about.
No one likes to get a phone call at three o’clock in the morning, particularly not folks who must get up early in the morning to make a presentation at Chapel. Still, Cecilla=s voice expressed concern when she heard David on the other end of the line.
ADavid, is there anything wrong?@
AWell, yes there is, Darling,@ he said. David had never called her Darling before, but this was the first time he had spoken to her after having the “proper preparation.” AIt=s your car ….@
AMy car? David, have you had an accident? Are you hurt?@
AI’m fine. No, I haven’t had an accident, but your car ….@
AHas it broken down? You poor darling. I’ll be right there. Where are you?@
AI am at ….@ This was the third time in thirty-six hours that, while talking with Cecilla, David had begun a sentence and didn’t know how to finish it. You can=t blame David for not wanting to answer the question. It wasn’t going to be easy at three o’clock in the morning to tell the woman he loved he had misplaced her car, particularly when she had to make a presentation at Chapel the next morning. It would be more difficult to tell her he was outside a pub called Daisy=s Dreamworld. Women consider themselves understanding creatures, but when a man finds himself in the kind of position David found himself in, women aren’t all that understanding. Sometimes, their voices take on a sharply critical tone.
But if Cecilla was going to help David find her car, she had to know where to find him. AWell, I am … in front of the library,@ David said, his voice cheering considerably. And he wasn’t lying, for the strolling and strutting he had done after leaving Daisy=s Dreamworld had put him directly across the street from the library. It probably had been there all along, but David hadn’t noticed it before Cecilla had asked where he was. When he did notice it, it was like a gift from heaven. Heaven seemed to be showering him with gifts aplenty of late, David thought.
Cecilla said she and her father would be right there.
David needed to station himself in front of the library, so he danced across the street energetically and enthusiastically singing still another popular song. David said he danced across the street, because the song he was singing lent itself to a lively quick step.
After completing his singing and dancing performance, David sat down on the steps to the library to await his future bride and her father. The thought of what his future father-in-law might say about him misplacing Cecilla’s car made the step on which David was sitting seem a bit harder than it actually was. David readily admits he wished papa Washingham-Thistlebottom wasn’t on the agenda. If there is anyone less understanding about these situations than the girl one loves, it’s the father of the girl one loves.
It wasn’t long before papa Frotham drove up with Cecilla in the passenger=s seat. Both climbed from the vehicle, and their appearance made clear the haste with which they had come to David=s rescue. Both were still in their night clothes. Father and daughter got busy looking around. David joined the looking, but the evenings activities had left David’s intellect less clear than normal, so at that time he wasn’t sure what object they were seeking.
ASo, where is it?@ papa Frotham asked, getting down to business.
AWhere is what?@ David answered papa=s question with a question of his own.
AWhere is Cecilla=s automobile?@ papa Frotham said, clarifying the matter.
Papa Frotham’s question cleared David mind a bit. He now recalled what the missing object was. Still, he wasn’t sure why his future parent was asking him for its location.
AHow should I know?@ David said. AThe fact is, I called you because I don=t know where it is.@
AWhat do you mean, you don=t know where it is?@
AWell, the nub of the matter is, I seem to have misplaced it.@
AYou misplaced it?@ Earlier I said that on bad days, David looked like a sickly bass gasping for something for its lungs. Now, papa Frotham did David one better—he looked like a mackerel in the same condition gasping for the same thing. AYoung man, where did you leave my daughter’s auto?@
AThat=s just the thing,@ David said, AI don=t remember.@
About this time, David noticed that Cecilla was shoving her face upward toward his, and he was certain it wasn’t to encourage him to kiss her. Her nose twitched as it worked its sensory powers. When she spoke, David felt uneasy about the tone of her voice. He felt more uneasy about her words.
ADavid Appleby, have you been drinking?@
AWell, I may have stopped for one single drink or for two or for … but only for nourishment, so I would be prepared for Chapel tomorrow.@ Checking his watch, David corrected himself, AThat is, for Chapel today.@
AJust where did you have this drink, these drinks?@ papa Frotham again joined the program.
AWell, lets see, it was at the Owl=s Perch and the Hungry Eye and O=Dool=s and the Shamrock and Daisy=s Dreamworld and the … darn, how’s a fellow supposed to remember every place he visited during the long evening hours.@
David told me afterwards he realized he may have said a word or two too many.
Even though it was a warm September evening, Papa Frotham=s entire personality turned rather cold. He told Cecilla to get into his auto and they would find her vehicle without David=s assistance.
David felt that to keep diplomatic avenues open, he should say something. He offered, AShall I see you at Chapel later this morning?@
Papa Frotham=s response was a growl that sounded like Adefinitely not.@ The auto with David’s loved one and his loved one=s father roared off.
David walked home with less vigor in his step than he had demonstrated traveling from Daisy’s Dreamworld to the library. No one observing him would have mistaken his footwork as a lively two step. Nor was his vocal performance up to his earlier standards. David thinks he might have tried to sing, but most of the sounds he emitted more resembled the noises pigs make when rooting about in their pen for a bit of corn. And although David didn’t mention it, I suspect his face, while still resembling that of a sickly bass gasping for something for its lungs, on that night might have resembled a tired and sleepy bass gasping for you know what.
Later, David told me that on his way home he remembered calling the police and telling them the car had been stolen. Of course he knew he should call them and tell them to forget the whole affair, because with Cecilla and papa Frotham on the case, the matter would soon be resolved. However, the long day and evening had taken its toll on David. He needed to lay down and rest, so he decided to call the police after a good night’s sleep, when his mind would be a bit sharper.
Although David wasn’t present to witness it, the Washingham-Thistlebottoms found Cecilla=s auto within five minutes of departing David=s company. They found it in the parking lot of the Owl=s Perch. Papa Frotham left his daughter next to said vehicle and whizzed on home, expecting Cecilla to follow.
She began to follow but was detained.
As any Indiana University student can tell you, the Bloomington police are blood hounds of the Sherlock Holmes variety. When on a case, they don’t let up until that case has been solved. And on that night they had a case to solve. A Mr. David Appleby had called and said his auto had been stolen, and the Bloomington police intended to find the culprit.
So it wasn’t long before Bloomington’s blood hounds had solved the case. That is to say, they had arrested the woman who had stolen Mr. Appleby=s car—a criminal going by the name of Cecilla Washingham-Thistlebottom. Alibis would not be allowed, for the police had caught her red-handed, that is, they had found her driving the stolen car.
They easily recognized her as the lunatic, criminal type. Clearly the name she gave was phony. People in Bloomington, Indiana are not named Washingham-Thistlebottom. Further, the woman had no proof of who she was. She claimed the auto was hers but had no proof of that either. She said she had lent the vehicle to Mr. Appleby, but she knew neither his address nor his telephone number. When crack crime solvers like the Bloomington Police ask themselves whether an honest woman would lend her auto to someone who she knew so little about, they answered the question in the negative. And to top it all off, the woman seemed to be one of those lunatics who went everywhere in their nightgown and bath robe.
Still, she was entitled to one telephone call, so they let her make it. She called her father. Having had his sleep the night before speaking at Chapel interrupted for a second time put papa Frotham in a bit of bad humor. That became clear when he showed up at the police station. He swore at the police, threatened them, and generally made a public nuisance of himself.
Bloomington has laws against citizens making public nuisances of themselves, particularly in police stations, and the Bloomington police know what to do with citizens who break those laws. Criminal Cecilla soon had a cell mate.
Those in attendance at the Sunday University Chapel were deprived of papa Frotham and Cecilla’s presentation. We never learned how the empty time was filled. Perhaps the congregation filled the time by singing. They might even have sung one of the songs David had performed on the street between Daisy’s Dreamworld and the library. That is unlikely, of course. It’s possible that after Chapel there were whispers about the unreliability of the English, who promised a presentation but never appeared. That would be unfair, of course, but whispers will whisper.
All was straightened out for the Washingham-Thistlebottoms on Monday morning when the courts opened. The outcome had positives and negatives. On the positive side of the ledger, Cecilla got her auto back, and Cecilla and papa Frotham would have more comfortable sleeping arrangements on Monday night than they had on Sunday night. On the negative side of the ledger, Papa Frotham had to pay a fine for his behavior at the police station in the wee hours of Sunday morning, and the Washingham-Thistlebottoms and the Bloomington Police parted on terms that make it unlikely they would be exchanging Christmas cards in future years.
David never saw Cecilla or Frotham Washingham-Thistlebottom again. On the Monday afternoon of their release from jail, they flew back to England.
We have no way knowing whether Indiana University asked the Washingham-Thistlebottoms to leave because the University viewed with severity people who failed to make scheduled presentations at Sunday Chapel because they were in jail, or whether the Washingham-Thistlebottoms on their own chose to leave because they wanted to return to the more sane atmosphere of Cambridge, England. Regardless, they were gone.
Regardless, with their departure, David realized the wedding was off.
And with the Washingham-Thistlebottoms’ return to England went David Appleby=s need for The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. So as I said earlier, David offered to sell the book to us at a discounted price at lunch on Monday. We all declined.
Sometime later, he told me his investment in the volume was not a complete loss. The following year, David gave the book to the Salvation Army, where he met a young women with whom he immediately fell in love. However, that affair lasted no longer than David’s average romance.