The Story Behind TELL ME ONE THING by Deena Goldstone
There have been times in my life when I’ve made major decisions without
my conscious mind acknowledging them until well after the fact. When I
began to write, I was working as a producer at Twentieth Century Fox,
attempting to get other people’s screenplays made. One morning I awoke
early to make some notes on a project and, to my utter astonishment,
five pages of a novel seemed to leap into being. I remember getting up
from my desk and vowing never to do that again. For someone who likes to
be in control, the almost automatic writing I had just experienced was
But every day before I left for the studio, I found myself getting up
early and writing some more. I told no one. I wasn’t sure what was
happening in those early morning hours, but I didn’t trust it. It was as
if a stealth operative lived within me, pointing the way, and my task
was to pay attention and follow. Only when I could hold the finished
novel in my hand did I finally admit to myself I had become a writer.
And although that early piece of work remains packed away in a cardboard
box somewhere in our garage, it was the cork out of the bottle. Next I
wrote an original screenplay and then another and my screenwriting
career was launched.
A similar process began the night my daughter was born, the night I
became intimately acquainted with grief. During the hours of her birth,
something went wrong. To this day – and my daughter is an adult – we
don’t have specifics.
None of the doctors who examined her during her three week stay in the
neonatal intensive care unit were optimistic. Finally, we were told to
take her home and see what developed. I put my grief away. I refused to
let it define our future. Although it became the subterranean river that
flowed beneath the life of our family, my conscious mind refused to give
I had a child to raise. Contrary to almost all expectations, she turned
out to be extraordinarily bright and spirited. But true to the most dire
predictions, she could neither walk, speak, nor feed herself. I, also,
had a new marriage to build and my career as a screenwriter to continue,
the birth of my daughter following quickly upon the release of my first
feature film. I continued working. It was a necessity, and in many ways
it saved me.
The screenplay form can be demanding. It calls for a ruthless adherence
to story through an unforgiving structure and it asks you to create
memorable characters with a brush stroke. Attempting to master the craft
is a humbling occupation. But like any challenge, it is also compelling.
For many years I was captivated, struggling to honor the form and make
something beautiful within it.
And then a curious thing happened. Just as I began to feel I knew how to
do this well – inhabit the screenplay form and use it fully, expertly –
I began to feel confined by it, as if I were bumping up against the
perimeter walls and that what I wanted to write about, how I wanted to
write, couldn’t be accommodated within the dictates I knew so
That’s when I started to write these eight short stories. Without
consciously understanding it at the time, I needed to write more
expansively, in a form that felt more elastic.
As this collection grew, so did my pleasure in writing these stories. I
could write more personally. I could get inside the heads of my
characters and tell you about them in ways that are unacceptable in a
screenplay. I could write the small moments between people that often
change lives. Oh, I felt like I could breathe deeply and stretch my
But what I found myself writing about – without making a conscious
choice to do so - was the emotion I had carried within me since that
night of my daughter’s birth. It was time to listen to that stealth
operative inside me – now, deal with the grief now. All the stories in
this collection are linked through that emotion.
Jamie O’Connor in his three stories – Get Your Dead Man’s Clothes,
Irish Twins, Aftermath – has made peace with his
grief-ridden childhood, or so he thinks. The accommodations he’s made
have rendered his adulthood meager and spare. It is only another dose of
grief which propels him to his awakening.
Trudy Dugan in her three stories – Sweet Peas, What We Give,
The Neighbor – has been freshly assaulted with the death of her
beloved husband. For thirty two years she had been supremely happy with
the status quo and then Fate intervenes and she has to begin her life
all over again. How she manages that surprises her, but she ultimately
embraces what she has never been able to – change.
Anna, in Wishing, learns about gratitude in the same moment she learns
about grief. The man she will always love teaches her that.
And in Tell Me One Thing, Lucia and Maggie put grief away in
favor of the familiar.
As I wrote these stories, I came to understand that grief is the
starting point for my characters, but not the end point. There is
something in each story about how this journey that no one wants to
embark upon can be traveled. As a collection they hold out the hope that
this trip can contain unexpected grace.
That’s what raising my daughter has taught me. From grief has come
surprising gifts. From grief has come a life for all of us – my husband,
my daughter, and for me – which contains laughter and delight. I have a
daughter who holds so much joy within her that I often see her as the
happiest person I know. Who would have thought it possible? Surely, not
And so, it is this mystery, this wondrous transformation, that I needed
to write about in Tell Me One Thing. It is the hope that comes
when we least expect it. It is the life we can create despite the grief
we carry and sometimes, even, because of the grief we have experienced.