Saturday, November 20, 2021

the poet and the story

When I was twenty, I enrolled in my first ever fiction writing class.  It was actually my only ever fiction writing class, since I was really not that good at it and was gearing my coursework, at that time, more toward dramatic lit, then later, poetry.  Every few weeks, I would be up for critique, so would type up my drafts on the typewriter I bought with my high school graduation money, make copies at an off-chain copy store in the strip mall next to the grocery store (where it was cheap) or the campus library (where it was not) . We would read the stories and offer suggestions.  The bizarre part is i have no memory of the stories or their plots or even what my classmates had to say about them.  I do remember my instructor, a visiting author who had won a fancy award (and who also happened to be an alumni.) telling me my sentences were way too long and lush and unruly, and although somewhat Faulknerian ( which I took as a compliment, but it was probably not). So unruly and long that I lost my reader entirely within them, and that maybe I was better suited as a poet.  He was right no doubt.  Not only in my lushness of language being too much to follow the plot, but also my poet attention span better suited to the sprint than the marathon. 

A few years later, post grad school and during a summer off from my job at the elementary school library, I considered fiction as an option for extra income during the months I wasn't getting paid (and when I was, it wasn't that much.) That summer, I filled several notebooks with short stories--the notebooks are still somewhere in my apartment, but I haven't looked at them in 20 odd years.  They were not very good, and I remember only slight recalls of what they may have been like.  But a year later, I would go all-in on poetry and leave them behind. Or at least the genre of fiction as a whole. Surely, my tendencies toward story and a developing preference for prose poems was a holdover from those early impulses. That same 13 year old girl who set out to write fiction like Stephen King, writing her novel out long hand while watching horror movies on Friday nights when her parents left her babysitting, I buried her in poetry, where she appears on occasion in my penchant for certain kinds of stories and subject matter. 

The stories I wrote for that ill-fated workshop, in those spiral notebooks years later, they were attempts and gestures at "literary" fiction, which I guess is only a contrast to "genre" fiction--kinds of stories with certain expected parameters and rules. I was not sure what those rules were, but I was tempted last month, having finished my latest poetry longer manuscript, and on a brief pause before starting another (and filled with all sorts of ennui about everything in my life.) to try my hand at something very different, but probably not that different at all. A genre story.  A simple little ghost story. 

A few months back, one of my authors, Marion Cohen, had invited me to submit work to a special issue of Alien Buddha she was curating about thrifting. Despite my love of it and tiny mentions in my work, I could think of only one piece that might work--"The Blue Dress Poems" which appeared in my first book, the fever almanac--all the way back in 2006.  I joked that I'd always wanted to write a series about haunted thriftstore objects and a seed stuck in my head. A prom dress ghost.  A haunted suitcase that was found in a river.  Other things that held energies. It probably goes back to my teen love of Friday the 13th:   The Series--a an antique store filled with cursed objects.  And what if I wrote a whole linked collection of such stories about a town filled with ghosts.

It was a wholly impractical idea, mostly since I barely have time to write poems, let alone much longer and more editing-intensive things like fiction. But, thinking October might be a good time for ghost stories, I drafted one coming in around 6000 words, which felt long and clumsy.  Then started another.  I left them alone for a few weeks and then returned to find they were not as terrible as they felt.  The past three weeks, I took red pen seriously to one of them, and yesterday felt right to possibly let someone else see the first one.  I actually got a pretty quick faster than I expected, but it was weirdly encouraging even though it was no.   And my first rejection for something not poetry ever. (it was a rather high profile and well-paying market, so obviously I'm not ready for that.)

I don't know if i will send it out again,  Or if I'll just share it somewhere for people who already like my writing.  Or even keep writing more of them, but it felt good to switch things up, to cast something in an entirely different direction than I usually do. I like the idea of linked stories. A novel seems crazy ambitious and unfamiliar but shorts not so out of reach. I'm mid-research for my next poem project, but not likely to start drafting til after the new year on that. It's kind of fun. And in dreary November, I need all the serotonin I can get.

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