Tag Archives: Story

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

Running Into Foucault at the Supermarket

cash stash

So there you are at the supermarket deciding whether or not it’s a macaroni and cheese week or more of a spaghetti week, and you turn a corner and there he is, Michel Foucault, judging wine in the wine section. You stare for a moment; his basket is mostly bread and wine and a pair of binoculars, and then he sees you, and it’s too late. He’s going to ask you if you’ve read his books yet. There’s no escaping it. You smile, he smiles. You ask him about the wine. He’s polite enough when you tell him no, not yet, but it’s in your reading list, you promise. You apologize, so he’s probably not hurt. Right?

It doesn’t help that Jacques Derrida is backing up the cash register with all his cheese cakes. He asks you how it’s going, but reads more into your answer of “fine” than you thought he would. You smile and ask him how Bourdieu is, but Derrida just keeps going on and on about how Foucault ruined his dinner party, and he’s throwing another one this evening with a book signing and everything, and you’re welcome to come of course, and you say no, so he guesses correctly that the subtext of “no” is actually “I’m so sorry but I still haven’t gotten to your work, please forgive me for being the skunk-flavored latte that I am.” You buy your spaghetti in silence.

You drop by the bank on your way home. While waiting in line you get bored, so you get on Tinder, and then there he is, Foucault, looking all smug in his first picture. Casually, you read his bio, which is the most Foucault you’ve actually read. “French writer and critic up for whatever. Let’s be visible together.” Your only common interest is wine; you swipe left after a moment’s hesitation.

You make it home, put away the spaghetti, and start working on your laundry. At the laundromat, you see Foucault again, leaning over a table with a pile of dark clothes, some of them folded. He is on his phone, his thumbs padding on the screen furiously. He doesn’t see you, thank God. You dump your clothes into a machine fast, cram in the quarters, and realize you’re one short. You turn around; Foucault is gone, clothes and all.

You should have said hello; he might have spared you a quarter. You begin crawling on the floor to look for a quarter someone might have dropped. You try, perhaps desperately, to remember where you left Foucault’s book on your shelf, with your unread Freud or your unread Butler. Sometime you’ll get to it all, but you are still short by a quarter. You think, “You will always be short a quarter,” but can’t remember if that’s existentialism or postmodernism or something else altogether. Either way, you are now covered in dust and you still don’t have a quarter. Like always.

-jk

 

Legend of the Mountain Bro

Mountain

The U.S. has numerous legends and monsters: Bigfoot, the Jackelope, the ninth Supreme Court Justice. Some people laugh at these legends; others live in continual fear of them. But the legend most feared and laughed at is the dreaded Mountain Bro.

The Mountain Bro lurks in the American West. Self-proclaimed “witnesses” describe him as four to seven feet tall, usually in shorts and a plaid shirt with only the two lowest buttons buttoned, while others claim to have seen him without a shirt at all, but almost always in large sunglasses and a backwards ball cap. Hikers often report hearing strange shouts in the woods, apparently the Mountain Bro shouting “siiiiick bro” or threatening to punch a foreign-looking tree. Others report hearing the the sound of Call of Duty being played near campsites. Experts from the History Channel believe the Mountain Bro lives on a diet of vodka made from fermented forest animals.

The Mountain Bro is said to wander into neighborhoods late at night to charge his phone and update his twitter feed. #squirrelvodka. He sometimes leaves behind a trail of sweat and body spray that he naturally secretes. Like most urban legends and former presidential hopefuls, the Mountain Bro attempts to live under the radar, which is undercut by his twitter account and regular forest parties followed by morning hunts for burgers to cure his hangovers. #vodkawithsquirrels.

Skeptics, scientists, professors, and particularly pretentious grad students doubt the existence of the Mountain Bro, but the evidence is overwhelming. For instance, the Mountain Bro has, on multiple occasions, filmed himself doing the cinnamon challenge and posted it to his Instagram account to prove his mountainliness. These videos usually end with the Mountain Bro getting a cinnamon-flavored bloody nose and passing out in the woods. #godblessamerica. Despite these bro tendencies, scientists and enthusiasts alike have somehow failed to acquire a dead Mountain Bro, which is in no way proof that he’s not out there.

Researchers and alarmists from the Discovery Channel, a wellspring of endless knowledge, have concluded that the Mountain Bro is most likely a regular bro, or a member of a growing cult of mostly college-age white males with rich parents. Bros, of course, wander in large herds in and around American universities pillaging bars, burning things down, and trying to prove their brohood by juggling weights and smoking tacos. 1 out of 55 scientists believe the Mountain Bro wandered away from his pack in a counter-cultural revolt against the high standards brohood requires, but because no proof of the Mountain Bro has yet surfaced, research is ongoing, and probably will be for however many seasons NatGeo can get out of Mountain Bro Men: Real Bros Looking for One Rogue Bro. For now, take precautions while going into the woods. Even if the Mountain Bro is resisting brodom, he may still be as dangerous as urban bros. Consider yourself warned.

-jk

Short Story Published in Circa

sparks upI’m pleased to announce that my short story “The End of Akrotiri” has been published in Circa, an excellent online journal of historical fiction. The story is about life in a historical Bronze Age Aegean site called Akrotiri before it was destroyed during the eruption of Thera in the 1600s BCE. I would be honored if you took a gander at it, and please check out the other stories I have the privilege of sharing this volume with.

This story is also a taste of what I intend to be my Master’s Thesis: a collection of short historical fiction stories set in different moments of cataclysm and transition. I want to explore varying forms of intimacy between people and places as ways of transcending climactic turmoil. But these are all details for my committee. For now, just enjoy a gentle, loving story about a volcanic eruption that killed everyone everywhere.

-jk

P.S. I listened to “All Used Up” by the wonderful Utah Phillips and “Funtimes in Babylon by Father John Misty while writing and revising this story. Neither of these songs have anything to do with ancient Greek volcanoes, but they did put me in the right mood for writing about the end of the world.

A Public Apology From This Blog

FOE

It has come to my attention that there is a slight possibility that some readers of this blog might find my portrayal of writers to be unfair.

It was not my intention to portray writers as living in the excesses of caffeine, alcohol, or both, or as people who experiment with certain stimulants that some states have outlawed. I did not intend to give the impression that writers are difficult people who have trouble coping with rejection, or that they have limited social skills. I also had no intention of portraying writers as hyper-critical egomaniacs who write for revenge, and who publish unflattering stories about their friends and families when they feel resentful of their almost constant sense of rejection by publishers, friends, strangers, and that guy at the bookstore with the mustache.

Additionally, it was not my intention to portray writers as the kind of people who use creative writing workshops as a means to external validation by submitting work that has already been accepted for publication, to insist upon the value and merit of their submitted workshop material on the basis that it has been accepted for publication, while simultaneously engaging in pretentious, esoteric discussions of craft that have little, if anything, to do with the actual content of their peers’ work, leading their peers, instructors, loved ones, and Rick from the bookstore to question if they ever actually read their peers’ work and merely have a list of bland, useless comments that can easily apply to any written work, or as people who spend their time rubbing their toes on others’ property and rummaging through Rick’s medicine cabinet when he’s not looking, and who drunk text their lovers at 2:34 in the morning while standing outside Rick’s house and wondering why Marsha’s car is there, or as the sort of people who deliberately loan you their sunglasses when they have pinkeye and leave their beard shavings in your glove compartment.

It was not my intention to portray writers this way, but I can understand why some readers might think that I had such an agenda in mind.

While I’m at it, my lawyers inform me I should apologize for my portrayal of historians. Any interpretation of historians, based on this blog, as resentful, conceited, pretentious, hyper-liberal anti-social Harvard rejects who hate their countries and take pleasure in reducing anybody’s joy in holidays to a crime against humanity and who spend their free time burning copies of the U.S. Constitution in their backyards in their underwear in a massive green cloud of pot smoke, is merely a misunderstanding.

As always, I thank you for your concerns about my portrayal of people on this blog.

-jk

When a Story Strikes

Blank PagesCreativity is sneaky; it can strike at the most inopportune moments, and writers need to be prepared. Writers can find inspiration while showering, cooking biscotti, giving back rubs, performing open heart surgery, or in my case all of the above simultaneously, and creative ideas can whither if not recorded quickly enough. Many writers, myself included, carry around small notebooks to salvage sudden ideas.

Sometimes, the best preparations fall short. While flying home this week, I was enjoying the on-flight complimentary burned coffee when something in my brain clicked, and an idea for a story crystallized.

Before I could pull out my notebook and pen, the plane began to shake. The pilot announced that we should remain seated through the turbulence, “even if you do like it shaken, not stirred.” My tray table lurched as I flipped to the next blank page and scribbled down every detail of my brilliant, wonderful story idea while it was still fresh.

Several hours later, as I waited for the shuttle to my hometown, I had a few spare moments to look back at the brilliant, wonderful, award-winning story idea. Instead, I found in my notebook a slim paragraph of what looked like ancient hieroglyphics. My handwriting is bad to begin with; add a jittery writing space and a lack of patience, and clarity is doomed. I could make out the words “old man” and “saucepan” amid the scribbles, but otherwise my brilliant, wonderful, paradigm-shifting story idea was illegible.

Rest in peace, story idea. I’m sure what I would have titled “The Old Man and the Saucepan” would have been excellent. In my rush to preserve it intact, I lost it entirely. As a writer, I should slow down sometimes. More importantly, I should learn to trust myself to utilize a half-formed idea. Even the best ideas I’ve recorded legibly have evolved. Art, after all, is a process of evolution, patient and sometimes careless. The key to producing good art is the ability to improvise. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to clean biscotti dough out of my shower drain.

-jk