Bon Voyage Little Story
I am sending away my little story, "Billy at the Beach," to lit mags across the nation. Glimmer Train has already rejected it (of course), but I believe that it's a story that will be appealing to and acclaimed by at least one slush pile reader in this great world. Look out Carolina Quarterly, American Literary Review, Ontario Review, Ploughshares, Oxford American (if only!), Gettysburg Review, Threepenny Review, New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly, Tin House, Prairie Schooner, Nimrod, New Delta Review, Zoetrope, and Paris Review! Simultaneous submission policies be damned!
Here are some of the comments from my crit partners:
1. Well done. Reading this was a pleasure. You have a well-crafted story of a destroyed human being here in just as many words as necessary.
2. This is a very dense story for so few words (considering), and you really got a lot in here. Details are great, as are the scenes you've constructed.
3. What a sad, subtle piece. Your descriptive technique is exceptional, drove me to a point of envy.
And this is the comment I would like to have for a future cover blurb:
"This is a kind of story that does what any good story should should: grab hold of the cerebral cortex or the limbic system, or whatever part is responsible for fundamental visceral reactions, and squeeze like a vise. It's a story for which phrases like "exquisite pain" were designed. And it is exquisite. It depicts terrible pain with a kind of frantic slowness, measured and desperate and anguished and a little bit, for the reader, like being sliced very finely and very shallowly with sharp thin knives."
I am only a little embarassed to admit that I have visions of book contracts dancing in my head. Meanwhile, I have a few more story ideas I should work on.
Is it possible that short fiction is harder than long? Not the writing, necessarily, but the concept. I find it much easier to imagine carrying out a novel than I do a short story. The few novels I read anymore are, for the most part, little stories told with lots of words. The stories I write are, however, humungous stories told with very few words. I think the most artistically excellent writings are those huge stories told not quickly, but frugally. Take, for instance, Justin Haythe's first novel, The Honeymoon. It's both a huge, gigantic, long, old, neverending story and a miniature portrait story he's got there, but it's a teeny-tiny little book. Yet, it takes longer to read than something like Harry Potter or Dan Brown or (I don't mean to pick on popular writers really). Justin's book takes longer to read because half of what you're reading there isn't actually printed on the page. He writes his miniature portrait in his thin book, but the story he tells is enormous. I believe that this is the best sort of literature and is, in many ways, poetry. That's the stuff I seem to write and it scares the bejeezus out of me. Of course the other poetical ingredient is the use of language that is juicy and tender and spicy and that you want to keep around in your brain for a few minutes to analyze and memorize before you chew it up quietly and send it down to your soul for nutritional extraction. This is the kind of writing I aspire to.
Perhaps, though, I'm reading more into Justin's book than I should, and that's because I know him. Or, used to know him, anyway, pretty well, and I tend to read more carefully the books where I expect to run into a character or situation I've experienced. I suppose that other people choose their readings to find out about stuff they know nothing about (Dan Brown, Harry Potter again), but I usually choose books to find out about me. Selfish, selfish, selfish, I'm sure. I've read Dan Brown and Harry Potter though--I actually know more than a little about the library/archive parts of Dan Brown, and he makes me laugh. I don't know where I am in Harry Potter though. Feeling alone in the world and overburdened by having to save it when you still don't know how to chat up that cute student across the room? Maybe that's it.
So, I have asked my Tivo to please look out for any program featuring Mary Louise Parker since I adore her (especially her West Wing character, Amy, and especially if Amy is rocking out to Van Morrison on a lazy morning), and, recently, Tivo recorded something on the Hallmark Channel (gag), Cupid and Cate. Since someone mysteriously changed the title, I was a few minutes into the movie before it seemed familiar, and quite a few minutes in before I recognized it. It's Christina Bartolomeo's book, Cupid and Diana, featuring my very good friend David split into two completely different characters and including not a few people and places I know quite well.
Now I've forgotten why I brought that up. It's another case of a book I've read that features someone I know (though, in this case, not the author), but, in this case, I didn't even recognize the movie version of the book several years later and, clearly, didn't take away as much from the reading experience as I did from Justin's book. I guess this disproves, to some extent, my theory that, inherently, I get more out of books involving someone/thing I know well. Oh, nevermind.
I wish I could write like Ms. Bartolomeo, though I don't aspire to it. She has good stories and she tells them in a friendly way. I'm not too good with those things.
Tomorrow I will introduce The Definition Essay to my class of aspiring auto mechanics, paralegals, respiratory therapists, and bartenders. They're going to hate me even more than they do already. I have so small a response to their questioning of the value of such an assignment in their lives. They reject my argument for cultural literacy outright. Nevertheless, this was my second most successful lesson last semester, and I am looking forward to it. I ask the students, as homework preparing for the lesson, to look up their favorite words in three different dictionaries, write citations for the entries (to reinforce MLA style), and to choose their favorite definition and justify their preference. We spend most of the class cracking on each others' favorite words and talking about the many reasons to prefer one word over another and one definition over another. It's a successful lesson.
Also tomorrow, I have a choir rehearsal and then am going to see my heart-throb's band play at my favorite local bar. He doesn't know he's my heart-throb and I probably don't want him to know it until I have a new hair cut, am a perfect size 8, have my first book coming out in paperback and sold in England, and have finally bought my perfect farmhouse and ordered the trees for my orchard. Then again, I'd also like just to go ahead and drink some beers and make out with him on a slanty porch, other stuff be damned.
Friday, I have a date with a friend's husband, and yes, it's just as weird and creepy as it sounds.