More About Short Stories? Always

I admitted before to my near-obsession with short stories. Now I just randomly happened upon this thread about stories that “blew you away” on the Poets & Writers Speakeasy (I think you have to sign in to read it). There are so many stories mentioned that I haven’t even read!

But this comment about children’s books made me sort of want to cry:

also- “The Falls” – – by george saunders – to me this story is absolutely brilliant – – my favorite story of all time – what happened to saunders ?? childrens books ? jeez

It’s not George Saunders; I love his stories. It’s me. I’m still trying to reconcile this, I guess.

I want to write for young adults and also continue to write what I usually write, literary fiction. Who says I can’t do both? Anyone, anyone? Lalalalalalalalalalalalalalalala I’m not listening.

(Real mature.)

But hey! I’m still revising that short story for the summer workshop… getting close…

Do you know that one short story (litfic) can take me longer to write—if you factor in all the months for each of the drafts over the years—than an entire young adult novel? That may have been a very unhealthy thing to confess. I was trying to explain it to e yesterday… It’s because every. single. word. matters*. Still, I have to finish revising this story today.

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* Which just so happens to be how I’m treating D: the novel I’m writing now. I hope that making every. single. word. matter doesn’t slow me down too much. I actually have a deadline for this one.

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Awkward Elevator Moments: Literary Agent Edition

It’s an especially auspicious start to your day at your office job when you run into a literary agent who rejected you on the elevator.

When introduced, hope he does not recognize your name, smile, and say simply, “It’s nice to meet you.” Do not say, “Why didn’t you give my novel a chance?” or “What’s wrong with me?” or “You made me cry.”

If you are lucky, the literary agent who rejected you won’t care who you are one way or the other. He will smile and nod and get off on the floor he’s visiting (which also happens to be your floor) without further conversation.

If you are not lucky, the literary agent who rejected you will remember your name, even though he rejected you at least two years ago. He will say, “Oh, yes. We corresponded.” And that verb, seeming so veiled and personal at the same time, will shoot straight to your heart. You will remember that the correspondence in question was only you sending him pages because his client recommended you do so, and him having his assistant send a “Dear Writer” form letter back. Technically, you would not call this correspondence, but it’s better not to argue with a literary agent who rejected you, especially in person, on an elevator, first thing in the morning. All you can do is nod. There is nothing more to say, really.

Expect many an awkward moment to follow. If you are lucky, the elevator will reach your floor safely. Be pleased when the doors do open. If you are not lucky, you could be trapped in an elevator with a literary agent who rejected you, a story that could not end happily, no matter who writes it.

When the elevator ride is over, the literary agent who rejected you will step off the elevator with a wave. Keep it together. Do not run after the agent. Do not ask for another chance. Feel free to walk to your desk, wondering how your life might have turned out if the so-called correspondence ended some other way. It is okay to breathe now. There is a good chance you will not run into another literary agent who rejected you for at least the rest of the day.

* * *

Have you had an awkward moment with a literary agent lately? Do share…

How Many Stories in One Story?

In an hour of desperation, I caved and just wrote a new first paragraph.

It is entirely different from the paragraph I lost. Unrecognizable! It takes the story in a whole other direction, opening up new worlds and possibilities, or at least sentences to have on page 1, which (this is just how I write) will change the rest of the story because everything is reliant on everything else. And this brings me to the heated question:

How many possible ways could I revise this one story? I mean, will this—can it? should it?—ever ever end?

I’m mystified. I’m not even sure what story I’m writing now.

I feel like I could revise myself into a whole new person.

Said and Unsaid, Remembered and Unremembered

I wrote a long post about a certain branch on my tree of discontent, rambling on and on with house-size paragraphs and even a list of angsty, bulleted proportions, but I haven’t published it. Maybe it’s best to hold on to such things before exposing them to other people?

So I am now sitting here in the middle of a three-day weekend (Memorial Day… am I supposed to barbecue?) trying to focus, to not get overwhelmed by all the writing pieces I want to get done this summer. Novels, stories, more revisions on freelance projects I didn’t expect, oh my!

For the life of me I can’t seem to re-create the draft of this story I lost. I am hung up on the opening paragraph I remember writing. A word here, a word there comes back to me, a visual, one lucky phrase. I wish I could hypnotize myself to bring it back from memory. I don’t know how to move on with this story without it; I just remember it feeling so right.

A part of me is tempted to bring the story to workshop with page 1 saying:

((MISSING BRILLIANT FIRST PARAGRAPH… PLEASE TRY TO IMAGINE))

It’s been years since I’ve taken part in a workshop, but I have a feeling that won’t go over too well. Do you agree?

Payday

I came home today to a check. THE check. The first half of my advance for my tween novel.

Excerpt of running commentary inside my head: Seriously, they paid me? And I haven’t written it all yet? Did the person cutting the check know that? Am I allowed to cash it now? Should I buy a pony? Wait, does this mean they are really and truly serious about publishing a book by… me?

The only sobering note is this: On the check, my last name is spelled wrong. It’s misspelled the way it may have been decades ago, before it lost a letter at Ellis Island. It’s almost like they know my history, like they KNOW WHO I AM.

Or, more likely, it’s a typo.

Either way, depositing the check shouldn’t be a problem, so I’m not worried.

Writing was never, ever about money for me; I meant what I said. But the first time I got paid for a short story, I was astounded, truly in awe that someone would actually pay me for my inconsequential fiction, me, the girl who rarely talked in class, insecurities roaring, those fourteen pages were worth publishing and printing and getting paid? My excitement reached geekish heights when I made a color photocopy of the check before I deposited it. I still have that copy somewhere showing my first windfall: a whopping $50. The best money I ever made.

Today, this check feels almost as good as my first $50.

Have You Seen Me?

Lost:

One Brilliant* Paragraph

Black type. Times New Roman, 12 pt.
Approximately 3/4 page in size.

Last seen on the morning of a computer crash. If found, please call.

* At least, in memory, I think the paragraph was brilliant. In reality it was probably more passable than brilliant. Probably it was just decent. But I don’t care—I want it back!

Who am I kidding? I’ll never get that paragraph (or the rest of that draft of the story) back. I’m in a tiny bit of a bind: that version of the story was the one I sent to get into the summer writing workshop. I’m supposed to upload it for my fellow workshop participants to read, or send something new for the workshop leader by June 11. I might try to re-create it from memory. Is that ever really possible?

Return to the Scene of the Crime, But Free!

I’m back at my morning writing spot, the place where my laptop’s hard-drive died, peeking at the table where it happened. I’m not being all doomsday, or even nostalgic—someone else is sitting in the table: a man charging his cell phone and drinking something out of a paper bag. So I can’t sit there even if I wanted to. You know, there are some mornings when this place is overrun with loud drunks or people sleeping off a long night who take up all the good tables by the outlets. I really need to find a new place to write before work, but nothing else seems to open early enough or is a close enough walk to the subway lines that would take me to my day job. Ah well. My battery will last another hour.

The good news is I turned in my second revision of the freelance project last night. (Will a third revision be needed? Let’s not ask.) If that project is indeed over, then I’m free! I’ve said no to new freelance projects again and again in the past couple of months—I said no to one just last week. Maybe it’s time to get my priorities straight. Or maybe I just can’t do it all and my exhaustion is getting the better of me.

Who cares. Either way, I look forward to not writing under assignment for a while. For now, I’m reading back my chapters of the novel now due in November (outline due July). Just reading them back to see where I am and gather up my ideas. All I have are these three chapters, 30 pages of a novel that will ultimately be about 150. I may have taken notes about my intentions for this novel, but they’re long gone and not even Tekserve could retrieve them. I will have to re-create my plan. There’s something really exhilarating about that. So… where do I go from here? … I’m so excited to be writing this at last.