by Anna Sargeant

I’ve spent most of my professional life writing for kids. And by kids, I don’t mean father-wounded adolescent girls with psychopathic tendencies. But when it became clear that this was the story the Writer Collective was going to write for the Austin Film Festival podcast competition, I had to tell myself this was the kind of story I could write. I had to get out of my writing comfort zone.

My husband - who is not a writer, but who is an artist and a regular consumer of Story in various forms - had been pressing me for years to try to write something different. Something other than the whimsically sweet children’s stories about large lapdogs and frog friends. . . stories that had yet to be published. He innately understood that artists have to push themselves if they are ever going to get better at their craft. I suppose this is true for any human endeavor, but it is particularly hard to do within the realm of art, which is so tied to identity and fear.

So when the Writer Collective chose this story, my chance was staring me in the face. The door swung wide open and two hands motioned from the other side saying, “We need you to do this with us.” Those two hands were all I needed to move from fear into daring. From “Why would I do that?” to “Why wouldn’t I do that?”

It’s true. I would have never attempted to tackle the themes of The Charlatan on my own. But that’s okay; I’ve done it now, and it turns out, it wasn’t as terrible as I thought. Yet not for the reasons you might think.

I discovered something surprising in the realm outside of my comfort zone. I discovered that the father-wounded adolescent girl with psychopathic tendencies was no more lost and afraid than the two frog friends who went on adventures in the woods. After all, if those frog friends hadn’t been lost and afraid, there would have been no story to tell. So I discovered that all stories are whispering something similar, whether they involve murder and deception, or ribbits and roses. All stories have something real to say, some kindness to unearth, some fear to still.

Knowing that helps me see there are a lot more stories I could tell, and I lot more stories I’d be willing to try. It also shows me my sweet children’s stories are still important, and still worthwhile.

And that is a comforting thought.