What’s Buried in Your Winter Garden?

broccoliImagine my surprise when discovering that our broccoli plants had survived the six inches of snow that covered them for several days. After the thaw, I peeled away the dead, soggy leaves and lo and behold, check out this bright green head.

This lesson — never give up hope —¬† was reinforced when a short story, Running with the Bulls, was recently accepted by the editors of the 2018 Hardball Times Annual. This story was written almost 4 years ago, many years after the events inspiring the story first occurred. (A belated thank-you goes to Jonathan and Robert for their help with this piece.)

Do you have any old stories or poems that never found a home? If so, dust them off and see if any new markets have emerged that might be crying out for your work. Additionally, consider re-thinking any longer stories that might be shortened. While it’s not a true flash fiction, coming in at 2,440 words, Running with the Bulls underwent many revisions through the years, and every time, surprise, surprise, it ended up being shorter and shorter.

These days, I’m also taking a new look at older pieces, particularly poems. Because I’m primarily a narrative poet, I have plenty of work that might work for flash fiction. This is one of the strategies we’ll be covering at my March 3rd workshop on the exciting field of flash. Interested? Visit the CCCC website and reserve your seat today.

In the meantime, never give up hope. Is there broccoli in your garden? As a dear friend and mentor once told me, and this wisdom never fails to inspire me: A good story will always find a home.

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More Musings From Flannery on Writing…and Softball!

Lately, due in part to the amazing short story class I’m currently taking led by my friend and teacher Ruth Moose, I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about the responsibility of the writer. Is the writer supposed to merely entertain? Or is she supposed to teach the reader something as well?

The reason I’m pondering is because I’m in the middle of writing a short story about a middle-aged man who is the self-appointed captain of a city softball team. ¬†Entertaining the reader is easy enough as humor abounds in the circumstances. But the teaching part is a little daunting because if true, it implies that the writer should have a little wisdom of her own to share. Shouldn’t entertaining be enough?

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve embarked on an independent study of Flannery O’Connor, one of my most favorite authors. She died at the too-young age of 39 which makes her musings on the subject of writing all too brief. However, those that exist are all the more poignant because of their paucity. So, when I need a little help, I turn to Mystery and Manners, a collection of prose cobbled from Flannery’s lectures and the like.

The book is chock-full of wisdom but today I’m drawn to this statement in an essay titled The Nature and Aim of Fiction.”If a writer is any good, what he makes will have its source in a realm much larger than that which his conscious mind can encompass and will always be a greater surprise to him than can ever be to his reader.”

What I take from this pithy sentence is that yes, the writer may start with an aim to entertain, but the story that emerges may end up instructing the writer. In the same essay she writes: “It’s well to remember that the serious fiction writer always writes about the whole world, no matter how limited his particular scene. For him, the bomb dropped on Hiroshoma affects life on the Oconee River, and there’s not anything he can do about it.”

As I ponder further, Flannery’s comments strike at the heart of what it is like to be writer. It explains a lot about why we do what we do. Sure, we wish to record our impressions of a softball-obsessed control freak, but we also long to write stories that give meaning to such impressions and in our own way, make sense of the world. This is why, as Flannery also concludes, that writing is so difficult to teach; it’s constantly evolving, even in the best of writers. It’s not easy work but the pay-off is every bit as rewarding as hitting that elusive grand slam!