Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The time I was entombed

I made a comment elsewhere that makes it sound as if I don’t appreciate my publication in the venerable Ploughshares several years ago, and I think I should walk that back, because the experience was invaluable even if the story itself was/is pretty meaningless.

I had rough times in my MFA program, mainly because I prioritized smug lyricism over story, and early on Richard Bausch called me out on that, sort of memorably. So when Al Young conducted a visiting writer’s workshop, beginning with a grave speech about how essential it is for the main character to change by the end of the story, I was nervous. See, he had my manuscript in hand, a story in which a guy sits at a bar in front of a big painting of Dolly Parton, thinks about his life, leaves the bar. That’s freaking it. 20+ pages.

And then he said my character never changed. I braced for another MFA beat down. But no, he said it was a good story any way. I think he used the word ‘ineluctable.’

Several months later, Young called the dept asking for that “woman with the brown curly hair” who had written a story he liked. He wanted me to make the revisions and send it to him for an issue of Ploughshares he was editing with the theme of “Believers.”

So that happened. A pub in Ploughshares, graduation and immediate employment, and I didn’t write for years. When I did write, I played with novel projects and had no interest in literary short stories—too much cancer and divorce amongst the middle class—and journals made me sad because I was convinced that the only reason someone would crack Ploughshares to read my story was to see if they could do better than me.

Then years later, Ploughshares offered authors the opportunity to join their digital archive. I opted in, and the rush I felt from seeing my work online was powerful, which in turn sent me into the world of online lit where what I read was so exciting that my love of short story was re-ignited.

I don’t have an ending for this. Oh, almost forgot. When Young called the dept, the receptionist got over excited for me and kept saying it was Andrew Young who needed to speak with me asap. That was confusing.

11 comments:

Darby said...

interesting experience. thanks for sharing it.

Ravi Mangla said...

good post. thanks.

Molly Gaudry said...

I love this. Thank you for sharing!

Roxane Gay said...

Excellent. If characters always changed during stories, we might run out of interesting stories.

Erin said...

In this particular story? It sounds like the character has changed.

Dji said...

Woman sits in front of a computer & thinks about her Ploughshares experience. Does she change? Either way, I liked the tale.

Brandon Hobson said...

I enjoyed this.

David Erlewine said...

Frakin' great post, LES. In fact, this was one of the coolest things I've read in awhile.

Laura Ellen Scott said...

Well thanks, all of you. I'm not sure why this post strikes a chord, but I love the attention.

DOGZPLOT said...

its nice to see that you as the main character changed by the end of this post.

Scott Garson said...

Andrew Young--ha! that's a great postscript