Tag Archives: Revision

The Life and Times of a Short Story

short-story-draftThe young short story begins with a bang as the author manages to write six thousand words in several non-continuous sittings over the course of two weeks, though the author will later describe it in workshop as a single moment of creative pure truth. The short story matures with each passing workshop, experiencing growing pains, expanding and then suddenly being cut by a thousand words repeatedly, and not just because Rick from workshop said it “felt a little novelish.”

Still young for a while, the short story has a weird look. The story has a lot of split endings and wears a tight title that leaves little to the reader’s imagination, which the author is unaware of for several weeks because the author is too busy trying to understand Rick’s workshop submission, which involves a duck and how great New York apparently is.

Eventually, the story graduates from college with a sense of completion: the story has a clear beginning and ending and a fitting title. The story is submitted to four small literary journals. Like many American short stories, this story waits confidently for six months while resting in the back of the author’s hard drive with several older, wiser short stories.

After the first four rejections, the short story wonders about getting a better title, or if there was something wrong with the cover letter. The author polishes the story a bit with a quick makeover and pedicure to work out the typos and plot holes, then sends the reinvigorated story out to five journals. The short story’s determination is palpable.

But palpable determination is not enough, because after five more rejections, the story spirals into a mid-life crisis and gets two new characters and a new ending and then loses five hundred words after going to the gym. The short story feels better and is sent off to seventeen journals, six of which have already rejected the story as politely as is possible in an email. Meanwhile, Rick from workshop has been coasting on his one probably accidental publication in The New Yorker.

Seventeen rejections later, the short story finally decides to retire out of frustration. The author sees the potential in the story, but understands the difficulty in publication and ultimately thinks that better stories are waiting to be written. The author could dwell on the story for ten more years, but several new ideas have emerged in the author’s imagination, so the short story quietly goes back into a file on the author’s computer, solemnly labeled “Short Stories,” and is never heard from again. But the story lives on quietly in the author’s memory, and the memory of Rick from workshop who said it was pretentious and overwritten, but his characters are all just watered down versions of himself, so he can go lick a brick.

-jk

Acknowledging Wrongs of the Past

Maru

SS Komagata Maru, 1914. City of Vancouver Archives

Yesterday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that in May, he would make an official apology in the House of Commons for what is commonly known as the Komagata Maru Incident. In 1914, a ship (the Komagata Maru) of Indian passengers sailed from Japan to Vancouver, where the Canadian government refused to let almost all the passengers enter Canada. Most of the passengers were Sikhs, though there were a handful of Muslims and Hindus aboard, and Trudeau intends to address his apology to the Sikh community as a whole.

At first glance, this may seem like a strange transnational incident. 1914 saw the beginning of World War One, which in part contributed to Canada’s restrictions, but most of its limited immigration policies were grounded in xenophobia similar to that in the U.S. at the turn of the century, and Canada passed laws restricting immigration form Asia just as the U.S. did.

The passengers aboard the Komagata Maru argued that they had a right to enter Canada because they were British subjects. India was still a British colony, and both countries would supply troops to Great Britain in the First World War. Nevertheless, national fears of Asian immigrants persisted in 1914. The Komagata Maru sat in port in Vancouver for months before finally leaving.

Over a century later, a different Prime Minister of a different political party hopes to make amends. Formal apologies on behalf of governments to historically persecuted groups are not unheard of. In 2008, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a similar formal apology to the indigenous population of Australia, but Trudeau’s comments come at a unique political moment.

Trudeau will apology for Canada’s suppression of immigrants, and he intends to do so after his party, the Liberals, ran partly on a platform of allowing Syrian refugees into Canada, while political parties in Europe and the U.S. discuss either similar or opposite measures. Many politicians have advocated restricting and even halting immigration, and have used xenophobic rhetoric almost identical to that used by the Canadian government in 1914.

Trudeau’s apology is, of course, a highly political statement. It is not simply a matter of saying sorry, but of acknowledging what is now considered a broken logic, and with that acknowledgment comes a subtle declaration that such logic no longer has a place in his government. It admits not just past wrongdoing, but decries the possibility of future wrongdoing. The apology is a policy statement, an act of historical legislation that does not wipe away but makes an example of one of Canada’s worst actions, and in doing so, Trudeau invites others to listen, to introspect, and to follow suit.

-jk

Writer Seeks Characters

newspaper

March 3: Aspiring writer seeks three to four characters for minor literary endeavor, entitled Untitled Novel. Characters must be diverse, original, and snappy. Villains always appreciated.

March 9: Writer seeks one to two sympathetic protagonists to balance the fourteen unsympathetic villains who answered prior ad. One must be fluent in Russian. Quirks and comic relief are highly valued.

March 10: Fourteen unused unsympathetic villains seek good writer. Willing to die violently; highly skilled in diabolical laughter, fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, etc.

March 15: Lonely protagonist seeks sidekick and/or love interest. Must have agency, thorough backstory, and moderate comic relief. Static characters strictly prohibited.

March 22: Writer seeks spare subplot involving a gun. Alternative subplots acceptable, but must end in the death of an unexpected love interest the writer doesn’t know what else to do with.

March 25: Postmodern short story seeks ironic resolution for a plot involving fourteen unsympathetic villains. Violent deaths are acceptable, but must be meaningless.

March 29: Writer has unused Chekhovian subplot available, after finding a stray Deus Ex Machina in the shed.

April 9: Hastily killed-off love interest seeks new story, preferably one with a less obviously Freudian subtext and better dialogue.

April 11: Writer has unused Freudian subtext available. Writer also requests to be given a break, Marsha, the dialogue wasn’t that bad.

April 15: Postmodernist writer seeks editor and agent for polished fourteen-villain ironic story.

April18: Protagonist seeks new writer who doesn’t kill off characters just to fill a few chapters.

April 20: Struggling writer seeks copyright lawyer for advice on a recently run-away protagonist.

April 25: Escaped protagonist looking for work, has experience with romantic subplots but prefers complex internal conflict.

April 30: Aspiring writer seeks runaway protagonist. Please come back, Harold.

May 1: Postmodernist writer seeks complex internal conflict for new protagonist.

May 16: Writer seeks runaway protagonist, promises to try harder this time, really he will.

May 18: Seriously, Harold, I created you. What am I supposed to do now?

May 23: Postmodernist writer seeks good journal for a metafictional buddy/love story entitled “Marsha, Harold, and the Writer.”

May 30: Writer seeks three to four characters to collaborate on revising an old plot; is willing to work with characters closely; is willing to let the characters move the plot along.

June 2: Unused plot devices, tropes, and schemes available, no charge.

-jk