Before we had kids, Thom and I explored Ireland by train, by bus, and—please don’t tell my children—by thumb. We were hitchhiking from Dingle to Tralee when a rusty green service van pulled over. The woman offered a ride, so we tossed our packs in the back and climbed in. It smelled a little fishy, but that’s probably because our driver was a fisherman’s wife. We sat among coils of rope and scattered tools with a big black dog and two little blond boys, perhaps five and seven years old. It was the little one who did the talking.
“My da’s bigger’n your da,” he said, in a proper brogue, like a feisty toy Irishman.
His mother explained, “Liam’s missing his da, who’s out on the water.”
We introduced ourselves, and Liam asked, “D’ya have stars in America?”
“Like movie stars?” I asked.
“No, up in the sky.” He pointed upward, just to be sure I understood.
“Liam just discovered the stars,” said his mother. “It’s all he can talk about.”
“We have stars in America too,” I told him. “They shine and twinkle, just like yours. In fact, I think we see the same stars in America that you see in Ireland.”
“I have a cousin in America. Her’s called Mary. D’ya know her?”
“Where in America does she live?”
“Arizona,” said Liam’s mother, from the front seat.
“America is really big,” I told him. “We live in Seattle, more than a thousand miles from Arizona.”
“Is that far?”
“Well, if y’see Mary, ask if they have stars in Arizona.”
The boys were curious about America. “Here’s a souvenir,” I said, and I gave each boy a shiny new penny. “The man on this penny is Abraham Lincoln. He died a long time ago, but he was our greatest president—sort of like a king. He led America through our Civil War, and freed the slaves.”
It was twenty-five miles to Tralee, lots of time to share fun facts and answer Liam’s questions. I felt like a proper ambassador, conveying not only goodwill, but an insider’s view of America.
The next day I met Liam’s mother in the line for the ladies’ room at the Rose of Tralee Festival. She said, “Liam loves his penny. He shows it to everyone he meets, and says, ‘This here is the king of America. He’s dead, and his daddy’s dead, too!’”
So much for the history lesson! But it was also a lesson to me as a writer and a storyteller. We each live in our own little world. Before sending your story out into the big wide world, you might check to see if you and your readers are on the same page. Ask friends to read it and give you feedback. Set it aside for a little while and come back to it with fresh eyes. Join a critique group or enter it in a literary contest; an honest evaluation is worth the entry fee.
Whatever you choose to invest your two cents into, consider the exchange rate, and what might be lost in translation on the trip from one mind to another. But with a little luck and a lot of practice, you and your readers will be looking at the same stars.