“Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” I asked my dad.
“What?” he asked.
“Everyone always seems to know where they were when Kennedy was shot, so I just thought I’d ask.”
He shrugged. “I had to work.”
“What do you mean you had to work?” I asked.
“I had to make lunch for 500 people,” he said.
“But don’t you remember what you thought about it or anything?”
“I remember it,” he said. “But 500 people were needing their lunch.”
“Oh,” I said and looked back at the television. “Well then, what did you think about the Vietnam War?” My dad gave me this look as if I’d spoken a foreign language. “Were you for it or against it?” My mother had been against it. She told me once about a high school friend who’d died there.
“I had to work.”
“But didn’t you have some opinion about it?”
“I had to earn a living,” he said. “I didn’t have time for that.”
“I saw Nixon once.”
“I was in my boat off of Key Biscayne and I saw this man in a suit walking down the beach,” my dad said. “And I thought what kind of idiot wears a suit on the beach? He’s going to ruin his shoes. But he waved to me.”
In fiction I try not to be afraid of asking questions, but knowing which questions to ask and how to listen to the answer is not easy. Sometimes I look at my manuscript and go, “What?” And if someone asks me what the story means or what it is about, I want to say, “I don’t know. I just had to write it.”
That doesn’t seem like a good enough answer.
What kind of questions do you think a writer ought to ask when at the end of the story?