Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Story Behind the Story: Ida Tully and the Telephone

I'm gonna date myself severely here and admit that I grew up with a telephone party line.

In this future-I-never-imagined, where everybody has instant access to a phone of their very own, the concept of a communications line shared by several neighbors seems almost surreal. But it's indeed how we lived.

The big plastic phone with the rotary dial went off twice in quick succession, and we knew it rang for us. If it went off with one long ring or three quick rings, or any other combination of rings, it was for somebody else. Which didn't stop my mom from picking up the phone to listen to the conversations there.

They say there's no privacy in small towns, but back then there was no privacy in the country either.

So I always wanted to write a story about a phone.

Last week, I had a chance.

I was typing waist deep in a story called "Drowning on Dry Land," treading water. The hero was a greenhorn cowboy with a twisted ankle, stuck with a newborn calf in a flooding creek and more rain on the way. I needed him to find a way to call for help.

Insert handy plot device: a low-hanging telephone line. My hero finds an unlikely branch and miraculously tosses it up, snags the line, pulls it down. The old busybody on the other end notices the phone is out of order and sends a posse from the ranch to repair it. Naturally, they find the hero and all is well.

I typed THE END, reviewed the story, wasn't satisfied with it (did it seem phoned-in?) and archived it for later.

But the image of vexing a telephone busy-body by tearing down the line stayed with me.

So with a new blank document, I sat down and wrote "Ida Tully and the Telephone."

A new story from the fragments of another. Have you ever had that happen?

Ringing in around 2,500 words, this one took three sessions (not counting the original story) --one hour and two half hour sittings.

After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. In 2016, Richard roped the Spur Award for short fiction given by Western Writers of America. Read more at www.RichardProsch.com


  1. Great story! I didn't see that coming...

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Gordo! It's a plus when the two stories can still work together.

  3. Sarah RothermichMay 25, 2016 at 10:16 AM

    What a fun twist! Love it!

  4. I remember party lines. My mother hated them so much she had one of the first private lines in the county.

    I also enjoyed the story. Great fun. Doris/Angela

    1. That's a great memory of your mom, Doris! I know my Grandma sure didn't like 'em. I can remember her stopping half way through phone calls to tell people to "Get off the line!"