Short Story & Willow Update (or why the best bar stories never get published…)

Last week our home routine changed again. Daniel has started kindergarten. His transformation into a bona-fide student went so smoothly, I’m surprised he wasn’t standing at the school’s doors at 6am with his new bookbag and lunchbox, calling out impatiently, "What time is it? Will school start soon? How about now? Now? Now?"

Thank God it went so smoothly. Much better than his summer school program back in June, when he got being mistaken for a Mexican boy and put on the wrong schoolbus. I would go into more details about this, but I’ve realized something: there are just some stories that are only meant to be told once, in the heat of the moment. Told any more times after that, and then the power of it wanes. When Daniel did not get off his bus and I spent the next two hours trying to piece together what happened, my emotions became so churned, that when we finally found Daniel (safe and sound, and in fact taking great delight at his impromptu ride) I headed down to the bar where my book club was meeting, where I spat out the most vitriolic, obscenity-laden, ear-blistering diatribe railing against the ignorance and ineptitude of the whole Madison bus system.

Then, afterwards, when the room still ringing from my profanity-laced hollering and the group, in all their wisdom, got me a well-deserved Mike’s Hard Lemonade, I found myself thinking, wow. That was good!

I have since told the story since to other people, but it’s not the same. For one thing, I’m calmer and had a chance to think about it. And I’m also owing up to part of the whole mess, so the story loses its emotional impact. ("If we hadn’t lost the wristband he was supposed to wear…") And even if I did get upset about it ("Never mind that even if he did wore the wristband, they would’ve ignored it; much like how they ignored the wristband of the Mexican boy they claimed was my son…) it pales against the initial blizzard of frustration and rage I felt.

The profanity was the best part. I never swear all that much in public, and even among friends, I occasionally use a tame ‘hell’ or ‘damn’. But that night, whoa, I swear, the bar we met at got few more cracks in their ceiling from the words I was using (and I don’t regret it one bit—in fact, according to Time Magazine, it’s actually good for women to swear now and then. Acts as a pain reducer. Who knew?).

On the plus side, I did sell two stories in August. (Don’t worry, what I wrote above is related. You’ll see.) One will be published in October, the other sometime in Spring next year. So I crossed them off my list and took a look to see what other stories I had floating around the magazine markets.

Only two.

There’s one story that’s currently at Writers of the Future, so I should be hearing from that sometime this month. There’s another story that’s a rewrite request that I’m waiting to hear back on hopefully by this month as well. But as far as new stuff goes, I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Which means I better get some new stories out there to circulate, stat.

It’s not like I don’t have any stories to send out. I did a ton of writing back when Daniel was in summer school, so I actually have several finished stories sitting on my hard drive. Thing is though, these are all first drafts of stories. I wrote them as fun freewriting exercises and just never had time to go through them again. Or I figured I’d do some research first before I return to revisions. Then there’s one story I wrote a long time ago. But when I started the second revision of it, it started to get too wordy, too long-winded. The second draft was killing the story, so I set it aside to think on it some more, then promptly forgot about it.

Ever since I started writing, I’ve been of the opinion that good stories need to be revised twice, three times, four, maybe even five or six times before it’s ready to send out to markets. And I still stand on that. I’m working on a short story now that I know I’ll need a heavy duty revision for—it requires some research for it to be just right. It is a jewel that will need some good polishing to make right.

But I’m also wondering if my story-writing has improved as such that I can take some stories I wrote, do a general pass for spelling, grammar and punctuation, and just send them out. No toying with plot or point of view. No countless freewrites to figure out what the story’s theme or playing around with words to make it more lyrical. Just make sure it flows well, then send it out.

It’s a risky thing to do. I’m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to revising stories (and that’s the last time you’ll see me use the word ‘perfectionist’ when describing myself). I don’t want my stories to be merely good. I want them to be great. But who am I to determine if a story is ‘great’ or even ‘good’? The only way to find that out is to let someone else read them. But I can’t do that if they’re only sitting on my hard-drive. And there’s a possibility that the more revision I’d do, the less effective the story gets. There are some stories that do require carefully planning and revising, and there are some stories that are best when they were written in the heat of the moment, so to speak. Those stories work so well the first time, to rewrite them again would be an injustice, just like the school bus mix-up story. When I told it to my book club, it was perfect. I can’t recapture that again. (See, told you it was related.)

So here’s what I’m going to do. Starting this week, I’m going to start submitting a story a week. That means it need to be pulled off the hard drive, given a once-over to make sure it looks good, then find a market and send it off by Friday. If I do this for five weeks, it gets me five stories out in the market field. (I wanted to start this last week when September started, but with all the first day of school fun, I was pretty busy). So my goal is to have five stories submitted to markets by October 9. I’ll put a progress meter on the blog to show how I’m doing.

This isn’t something I’m doing for money or for show. It’s just a simple way for me to get some stories off my hard drive and out circulating until they find a place where they belong. Oh, yes, Willow is going along quite well. I just finished editing chapter seven, which ended on, I think, a wonderfully sinister note. I’ve been trying a new style of revision using Word 2007 comment feature—as I revise, if there’s something I’m really stuck on, instead of spending precious time trying to figure it out, I comment it with a couple of questions and continue on with the rewrite. The next time I open Word, I go to the comments first. Not only have I figured out the problem by then, but it also pulls me back into the story. I’m kicking myself for not doing this sooner—it would’ve saved me a whole lot of backtracking.

But I will get Willow done. Darn it.

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