Diane Holcomb, 'When the Knock Comes' | March 2, 2012 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - March 2, 2012

Diane Holcomb, 'When the Knock Comes'

When adult-category winner Diane Holcomb began writing her short story "When the Knock Comes," it wasn't coming together correctly and she was frustrated.

To remedy the situation Holcomb, a resident of Los Altos, began writing her sister, a lyricist, for help.

"I started to describe it to her and it all sort of fell together," she said. "It took an email to my sister to find my stride."

Her short story follows a mother who flees from the stresses of everyday life — both minor and major — and finds escape in the embrace of a theater that plays old movies.

Old movies have a special quality in that they make everything in life seem simple, she said.

"I'm a sucker for old movies," she said. "I was interested in a character that wanted to live in a black-and-white movie."

A major source of conflict for the main character is her worries about her son, who is deployed in the Iraq War.

Holcomb said her feelings about the war in Iraq are in the story and that she thought the country's reaction to it is distinct from its reactions to past wars, such as World War II.

Holcomb was a drama major at Cabrillo and Foothill colleges and worked for many years as an actress. She said her experience as an actor has affected her writing.

"My stories seem to be very character-driven because I'm so used to becoming a character on stage," she said. "The voice in my stories ends up being a lot like the character's."

Holcomb, who is in the midst of the first drafts of four novellas, said escapism is a common theme in her work.

"It seems that a lot of my characters try to deny reality and escape," she said. "Reading is an escape and watching these old movies is, too.

Judge's comments

"When the Knock Comes" exquisitely captures a swooping sense of possible loss by funneling the reader's wish for a happy ending into one character's longing for the simplicity of old movies. With the drumbeat of a single phrase, well-chosen details and other stylish touches, the author takes us finally to a stunned sense of desperate hope.

— Eric Van Susteren


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