what I write (and what I don’t write)
To no one’s surprise, “Velvet Elvis” was not selected as a finalist in this year’s Million Stories award. I had no idea of my chances, and I was tickled to be nominated at all, but I supposed the odds were not with me, so I held no unrealistic hope.
And perhaps just as well. I’ve read some of the finalists, and they certainly aren’t the kind of stories I write. Broken people with broken lives. Dysfunctional. Grim. Hopeless. All of those kinds of artistically appropriate things. My stories in contrast, and certainly “Velvet Elvis” in particular, are more like frolics through life’s absurdities. They’re not award-winning approaches, but I suppose that was never really the goal.
This is something I think about a lot. I ponder the consistent fact that the stories I have to tell are seemingly different from most of what is published. And that deserves to be broken down a bit.
First of all, they are the stories I have to tell. Whatever weird and unwitting combination of life experience and ingrained point of view that makes up the story telling part of me causes my style/subject of stories to bubble up in my brain and present themselves. I write what I have, and I’m happy to have what I have, but it all does seem outside the mainstream.
And I do seem to be consistent about it. Granted, my stories have ranged across some kind of spectrum; I have pieces that are “serious” like “The Respite Room” and “Unfinished Business.” Then I have fantastic stories like “Rebecca finds her way” and “Race to the Summit.” And my re-told Greek myths like “Moron Saturday” and “Pandora’s Tackle Box.” Yet they all have some spark of hopefulness about them, as though life can work out and most people do have something good in them.
I am currently deep in the realm of my Fathers and Sons stories. They’ve pretty much crowded out everything else I’ve been thinking of writing or have in need of rewriting. But as boorish guests in the house of my mind (was that stretching the metaphor too far?), they have been generous. These stories have been flooding into me so fast that I sometimes can do little more than throw down some notes about plot or purpose before I have to give my attention to the next wave. It feels as though every week another story in the cycle presents itself and demands to be told. Three months ago I didn’t know this universe of stories even existed yet now they are showing themselves as plentiful and coherent. These are now the stories I have to tell. Whence they come, I don’t care. Where they’re leading, I’m not sure.
But getting back to the point of this post — surprise! — these stories are also not like most of what I read out there. Sure, my fathers and sons face troubles, some of them quite serious troubles, but things work out. I don’t have the heart (or the life experience perhaps) to destroy my characters’ lives. (Here’s an example: I am literally in anguish about what I’ve done to two of my characters. I feel sad about what has happened to them, two people who don’t even exist yet whose misfortune — a fabrication of my imagination — draws down the corners of my mouth as I pass through the day-to-day of the real world. It seems absurd to feel this way, yet there it is.) I worry that my Fathers and Sons stories (and probably all of my stories) are naive and sentimental. That life just ain’t that fair or virtue generally isn’t rewarded or life just plain sucks and I’m too blind to see it or not brave enough to write about it.
I don’t know, and I don’t suppose I really ought to know. What I ought to do is be true to whatever vision I have. I should write the stories I have and not try to write the stories I don’t have. I should not lament what is and what isn’t. I should simply do the best I can with what I have and stride forward.
Which sounds naive and sentimental, doesn’t it?