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Writing “Transistor Radio: A Story of Love and Technology”

Guest Blogger

Thomas Allbaugh joins the blog to discuss how he crafted his story "Transistor Radio: A Story of Love and Technology."  After, you can read a snippet from his story that will be appearing in Relief 4.1.

I think there’s a story in how I wrote this story.

First, for about four months, I had only this phrase:

“I discovered the unconditional love of the transistor radio.”

Then came the approach of our university sponsored “Writers Read,” a fall semester reading of faculty and student writing. As the “read” usually works well in showcasing poetry and short prose, I think of it as an opportunity to test and play with ideas in short forms before an appreciative, critical audience. This time, I decided to explore the phrase above. As I did so, I began to detail a “top forty” world I had known as an eighth grader. Out of this exploration of a time when I owned a transistor radio, an account of first love emerged, and I wrote the story in one sitting. Though the love story seemed telescoped in the first draft, I read it for the reading, and hearing it and seeing audience responses to it, I was encouraged to expand on the characters and a few of the episodes. I often find that hearing a story helps me to see what is wrong with it, what is working. I was encouraged even more when Relief accepted it for publication.

Though editor Chris Fisher rightly wanted the narrative to move more quickly to the love interest than it did at first—and he is right that the love story is the real core of this one—I also was grateful that he chose to retain the details of the narrator’s growing sense of his family’s sinking economic status in comparison with the continuing prosperity of his peers around him. So this story really benefited from his editorial insights.

Here is a small piece from "Transistor Radio: A Story of Love and Technology":

"Thanks."  She slouched on her right leg, her left foot in pointed black shoes aimed at me, her left knee bent.  Though she had not developed breasts yet, her legs were wonderfully curved and slender from playing in sports. "I mean it.  That was great." She just nodded. Standing next to her for the first time, seeing the deep brown strands of her hair parted across her olive forehead and her retainer against her close, full front teeth, I wanted to tell her how great her band was.  I wanted to lie, to tell her that I played something cool like the guitar.  "Mike plays violin," Nick said.  He was across the room, unplugging the PA system. Carmina looked up then, as if noticing me for the first time, "Really?" I wanted to deny this.  I wanted to run.  As always, my failures to meet the criteria set by my peer group were made crystal clear. "Well," I said.  "I sorta used to."  This was as true as I could make it. Nick looped a microphone cord nearly around his hand and elbow.  "We should have him helps us with some Emerson Lake & Palmer.  Or the Moody Blues.  You know them, right Mike?" I smiled.  "Yes."  I had never heard of Emerson Lake & Palmer.  Or the Moody Blues.  Neither had been on late-night transistor radio.


Thomas Allbaugh has published both fiction and nonfiction in Blue Moon Review,Mars Hill ReviewPerspectives, and Writing on the Edge. He teaches writing at Azusa Pacific University, where he also coordinates the first year writing program. His first year composition textbook Pretexts for Writing was published by Kendall/Hunt in 2009. He lives in Southern California with his wife of almost 21 years and their four children.