A WRITER’S WIT
[Following wife's death]: Writers go bad when the angels desert them. Dylan Thomas was a marvelous poet and drank himself to death. Somewhere along the way the angel deserted him. An angel has left me too, but the writing angel is still with me.
William Gibson, Author of The Miracle Worker
Born November 13, 1914
My Long-Playing Records-Intro
For me the former happened with regard to the title story of my story collection, My Long-Playing Records. I sat down and channeled wherever it came from, polished it in less than a month or so, and sent it out to perhaps ten journals—most of which turned it down before it was placed. Boulevard, a highly respected and venerable journal out of St. Louis, accepted it almost a month to the day that editor Richard Burgin must have received it. You have to understand that Boulevard is considered by some to be one of the top literary magazines in the country. Ah, I thought. I’m finally making it. Now every story will come out of me wrapped with a bow.
Only “Basketball Is Not a Drug”—also part of this collection—had a similar history. Blackbird (VCU) contacted me also very quickly and said they wanted to publish it. Both of these journals, by the way, paid me: $400 and $200 respectively. Wow, I mused. It’s also going to be lucrative, if this keeps up. Well, it didn’t. Most every story I’ve written, published or not, bears the stretch marks of a difficult birth: many revisions and setting-asides, months, even years. And the remaining journals accepting my work have paid by way of copies, if at all . . . not that I’m complaining.
So I wondered . . . which stories to include in my collection, and how should they be arranged? I began with the obvious: use the pieces already published by journals; they have, in a sense, already vetted the stories. Somewhere, sometimes at the smallest colleges, an editor or editorial staff have thought enough of my story to call or write and say they wished to publish it!
Alrighty, then, what order? I tried to look for patterns or motifs that I might repeat: at first, I arranged all the stories by age of the protagonist, from youngest to eldest. Didn't work. So then I saw there were several stories about or narrated by young people, several middle-agers, and several aged characters. So I created three waves: young, middle-aged, old; young, middle-aged, old; young, middle-aged, old. Also, I didn't wish for the casual shelf reader at a store to think these were all stories about gay characters, so I didn't introduce the first "gay" story until after the midway point. Tricky, eh? That way I hoped people would have the chance to fall in love with my writing, my characters, and not give a fig about his or her sexual orientation.
I also saw that my stories echoed certain refrains: boys with weak or ineffectual fathers, abuse, musical motifs, and more, and I didn't wish for any two stories with similar themes to be exactly next to one another. I have confidence that I chose the arrangement that works best.
Over the next several months—one post per week—I shall share with you how each story has come into being. How might I use autobiographical material? Which stories evolve from observing my fellow human beings? From what source do characters seem to emanate? This process is a bit self-indulgent, I realize--information a writer would never include in an actual book. But perhaps this idea demonstrates one of the benefits of having a blog: sharing your thoughts over the back fence of cyberspace. You can write about what you wish, and because you can, you do! I hope you’ll enjoy reading about the adventures I had putting together this collection. More important, I hope you'll buy a copy!
Click here to purchase My Long-Playing Records and Other Stories, where it is available at Amazon.
NEXT TIME: NEW YORKER FICTION 2014
NEXT THURSDAY: MLPR-More about the Title Story