Done And Done And I’m On To The Next One

Anton Chekhov never had a bad hair day.


This morning around 6:30 I finished the first revision of my new novel Fifty Cent Soul. I’ve been at this too long to think I’m done, but I’m closer. I went ahead and formatted it for print so I can get a galley copy  worked up. I like to do my corrections and edits on paper. It works better that way. I’ll get the book, sit down with some coffee and read through it to see if everything makes sense. Then another pass to arrange Ts and Is and make sure punctuation is handled properly.

But not right away. No, I’m going to do what I did when I got to this point of Hawser. I’m going to write some short stories.  Short stories are a totally different animal than novels, and in many ways allow a greater degree of freedom both stylistically and story-wise. There’s a shorter arc, and that gives you something to play with. In my story Your Friendly Neighborhood, I tell a tale of a somewhat creepy stalker-type who is more (and less) than he seems. Let me know if you want to read it and maybe I’ll send it to you.

When I look at writing short stories, though, there’s a lot to intimidate a fella. I love good short stories, probably because there are so very many bad ones. I can’t count how many times I’ve read a story in a major publication (or literary journal) and come away from it feeling like I wasted my time. It’s so, so easy to suck. I do it all the time.

So I try to read the great ones. Tim O’Brien’s war stories, Brad Watson’s dog stories, Peter Orner’s Esther stories and many, many more. It’s inspiring. It’s also hard to figure out why they’re so good.

The grand master of the short story is, for me, Chekhov. He achieved wonders that are hard to believe, such as taking 30 pages to show an entire year of a Russian family in his story Peasants.  Another fantastic Russian is Turgenev, whose Kassyan of Fair Springs stands in my memory as one of the most beautiful stories I have ever read.

In English, we have (of course) Hemingway, Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Alice Munro. I already gushed about Andre Dubus in another article, so I won’t give you another entry from the Department of Redundancy Department.

Instead, I’ll give you a bit of wisdom from a man more associated with creative non-fiction than stories (or even novels): Truman Capote.  His story Shut a Final Door is a great one indeed. But what endears me to him especially is this quote. I think he nails it:

“Since each story presents its own technical problems, obviously one can’t generalize about them on a two-times-two-equals-four basis. Finding the right form for your story is simply to realize the most natural way of telling the story. The test of whether or not a writer has defined the natural shape of his story is just this: After reading it, can you imagine it differently, or does it silence your imagination and seem to you absolute and final? As an orange is final. As an orange is something nature has made just right.”


Don't just stand there.