Behind: “First Rodeo”

If you were around a century or so ago, and you knew him well, you might call him Bill. On a legal document, William Sidney Porter. If you read any of his 300+ published stories, you knew him by his pen name: O. Henry. The name now commands a prestigious short story award, but more than anything, his work effectively trademarked a device: The twist ending, the literary tie that binds. When you or I try it, the reader calls it an O. Henry twist.

I don’t set out to write twist endings, although it is known to happen. I go for resonance, a finish that hopefully keep the reader’s creative chords humming. With “First Rodeo” I started with a big switcheroo finish and worked backward from there. It’d be a flash piece, zippy and sharp, right to the twisty point.

Living in Nashville, now and again you come across guys and ladies in Western Wear, like any moment might be their chance to tread the boards at the Opry. I had such an image, somebody in full faux cowboy get-up, and as my mind will do, it sought humor. A rodeo. Someone’s first, because the old saying is pretty emphatic that “it ain’t mine.” Well, somewhere, sometime, we all had that first figurative one.

I ran with that idea, taking it literally. To set the trap, enter Little Caleb and the rodeo he was busting to attend. A crime story wouldn’t work through Caleb’s wondering eyes, or at least would be damned hard to pull off the twist. Flash fiction is already like stitching microscopic fiber as it is. Enter Dad and his more jaundiced voice. He let me build tension and foreshadowing while still keeping true to his fatherly pride.

I hope O. Henry would say I played fair. There are breadcrumbs to the truth throughout, and astute readers likely roped and trussed up the twist faster  than a rider at the rodeo.

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