The Busker is the first story, but certainly not the last, written by Marco Etheridge to appear on the site. It is a simple piece that changes keys and time signatures and passes from Vienna to New Orleans and back. There’s something lost and forlorn about it and it has the magic to transport me to two places I have yet to visit, in person.
Q: This is a lovely thing that I had never read before. How much of it is autobiographical?
Q: Changing from Now to Then is often an awkward process; in pieces where that doesn’t work well, as it does here, you can almost hear the music and see the wavy lines that even Casablanca used to herald the event. Please describe what choices you made to pull that off as seamlessly as you did.
Hugh often cites the 90/10 rule for authors: In any given story, 90% of the tale is autobiographical and 10% is fiction, or vice versa. It is the author’s task to write the story in such way that the reader does not know whether the story is 90/10 or 10/90. In the case of “The Busker,” the story is almost wholly biographical. There really is a busker in Vienna who I see quite frequently. I really was a busker in New Orleans back in the days of my vagabond youth. The actual events that triggered this story are almost entirely taken from real life. I saw the busker kid, and in seeing him, I was transported to a former time in my life. It was one of those powerful moments when a story springs into being almost fully-formed. The part of the story that deals with Buster Holmes restaurant and bar in the French Quarter is so close to non-fiction that we could call it that without telling lies.
I agree that shifts between present and past are a dangerous business. As you said, the urge is to cue the weird music, or scroll the subtitles across the screen… “Forty years ago in the city of New Orleans…” As the actual events that triggered this story unfolded, I felt myself slipping below the surface. The surface was of course the membrane of memory, not the actual pavement beneath my feet. I kept coming back to that feeling of submersion, the idea of sinking back. Eventually I just wrote down what seemed like the simple truth: The pavement opens up and swallows the main character. This device seemed to accomplish the task of moving the reader back in time without resorting to silly tricks that have been done so many times.
Thanks again for featuring my story as a rerun. I am always thrilled to be a part of Literally Stories. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but LS was the very first journal to publish one of my stories. I was thrilled then, and I am thrilled now. These years later, I now have about eighty stories published and out in the world, yet Literally Stories will always have a very special place in my writing heart.