Saturday, July 14, 2007

Short Stories

The truth is I don't like short stories very much. The only place i regularaly see good short stories is in The New Yorker, but I never read them. I don't purchase books of short stories even by writers whose fictioin I like. I'm not sure how this came about, but mostly I feel there's just not enough substance to most short stories and that my time is better spent reading nonfiction articles. But a strange thing has happened.

As I've mentioned a few times I've been going to a site called Swap-bot where people post "swaps" that are exercises or challenges or pen pal type letters. Quite a few have been writing exercises and I have been taking part to push myself to write both fiction and autobiographical nonfiction. A current one was that each person involved would be given a partner to whom they would email a photo, then the recipient would write about whatever the photo inspired, poem, essay, short story, anything. A young woman in England send me something very abstract and when I asked what it was, she sent me three other photos, one of which seemed definitely to be from Venice.

As I thought about Venice I remembered being there with my ex-neighbor, Pat, and that we got lost on a rainy night on our way from a restaurant to our hotel. So very shortly I had written a first paragraph about getting lost and the next evening I wrote the rest of a short story. This is the fourth short story I've written in about two months. None of them have anything in common except a first person narrator but I don't think any one would think they were all written by the same person. And yet each one has delighted me as I wrote it and finished it. All are unlike anything I've written before. I do not believe they fall into the serious literature category; they are not deeply felt from my experience or observation ... or maybe they are from my observatioins and certainly I have a point of view in each that is my own. They've been seen only by strangers in this swap community. I think I will print them out and put them into a note book of their own. There is yet one more challenge I've signed up for that asks for a short story. It supplies a title I think is icky, "Cranberry Cove Cottage," but I'm already thinking of ways to subvert the Thomas Kincaid-ish picture those words bring to mind. I don't have a story yet but I might in a day or two.

There is a tap in my brain somewhere. When left dripping overnight a basin fills with unexpected associations and a situation arises, a story comes. I've always been good at doing assignments. A playwrighting group I belonged to for some time did, occasionally, 2 or 3 page challenges on a single word or phrase and I never failed to find something ... not brilliant but something. And so it's going with the short stories. Once a story has been put on the computer I have a refreshed feeling somewhat like a lovely coolish shower these hot muggy days. It may not be good literature but it's good mental exercise. I'm enjoying using those story telling muscles.

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