Thursday, November 14, 2013

Shoemaker, Stick to Thy Last; Writer, Tend to your Stories

The moment you tread with however tentative a step into the world of publication, the world about you changes.  Possibility paces before the door like a cat, wishing simultaneous entry and exit.  The potential for epic misunderstanding begins, and the potential for losing your temper accelerates at the approximate speed of light.

In its way, publication is of a piece with an attempted conversation with the cosmos, whether the cosmos wishes to hear you or not.  Thus you are, from the outset, looking for ways to embed arguments into your writing while at the same time renouncing tendentiousness.

You get from publication the equivalent of peer review in the world of academia and science; among other writers and literary critics, the greater potential is for your work being ignored or carped at for not being something you had not intended it to be in the first place, which is to say that a reviewer may well see something of yours to use as a trampoline for discussing something the reviewer holds dear--or hateful.

You have in the past been accused of ignoring something you said in the introduction you were not going to discuss because it was an appropriate topic for another work.  You have also been accused of advocating for something you in fact dislike, for being too flippant, for being too serious, for being too vague, for frontloading facts, and for writing Amelia Airhart sentences, which is to say your sentences set out with a destination in mind, only to become lost to the point of crashing somewhere along the way.

You so liked the metaphor for the last of your imagined offenses that you can not bring yourself to resent it.  Although you do indeed like long sentences, even to the point of taking great care in their construction so that their meaning and intent remain clear, you also understand how easy it is to turn such sentences into two or three shorter sentences by the simple act of stopping at the end of the first independent clause.

Although you did your best to cover your grades in English-related topics such as grammar, composition, and literature, lest you be seen as even more an outsider than you were, you were conscious even then of approaching a craft that required many hours of diligent study.  For the sake of what you hoped to become your career, you embarked on that supreme difficulty of learning how to spell to the degree that you were no longer called to account for its lack.

You embarked on diagramming of sentences with a gusto that baffled your then friends, who began to wonder aloud if getting A's in English subjects made you nervous, as you effected, or secretly proud, which you tried to pass off as an accident.

The true accident for you would have been for you to pursue the one high school counselors urged upon you, an accident you had enough informative self-awareness to push you irrevocably over an edge, into telling stories or analyzing them for others.  Being a Linotype operator or pressman/printer required mechanical skills and powers of observation you lacked.  

Being published was another matter; you had enough opinions for that, thus editorial applications, when applied to you, made you all the more interested in being called upon, recognized, given an opportunity to enter the conversation.

Your first editorial note of any serious came after you'd covered what you intended as a news story for a community newspaper.  The editor's first reaction was to draw long diagonal lines through each of the six manuscript pages.  His second reaction was to write at the top, too long, too wordy, cut.

Another editorial note had to do with a book review.  The editor scrawled across the top of the first page, "Sounds great, but how can I read it if I don't know its name?"

Still another, having to do with a rash of swimmers at the time attempting to swim the English channel (from England to France), bore the complaint, "too flip."

From such things, you began to see the need to introduce more facts and their interpretations, earning you the advice to "Loosen up."  then there was the editor who told you your stories were too funny, for her market.

Buoyed by such facts, you have reached the place where a collection of your short fiction is in the pipeline.  The publisher is working through and supplying notes on thirty stories, all of which have appeared in one journal or another, the editors a more or less representative crop of editors of literary journals.

The first thing you learned from the publisher of the collection is that a number of the stories are not stories, and editorial suggestions for the stories that in fact are stories indicate the need for you to consider and develop or otherwise alter certain circumstances.

Although you did not expect this close scrutiny, you are pleased you got it.  You are not the only thing who needs to consider the steps and conventions of the writing craft; you stories need to ease their way into the conversation as well, and they will need to do it with more than a sense of bravado or mischief.  They will have to learn every bit as much as their creator does.

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