“Open Country: an allegory”

So I spent Sunday at my cabin in the Ozark woods. My wife and I planted forty trees (most will die, alas), I threw a lot of rocks in a hole that is threatening to wash out my spillway, I cleaned the flotsam from my dam overflow drain, I fed the birds, I discovered that a goose is now nesting on small island in my pond (nice!), I spent some precious time in a comfy chair on a shady porch overlooking a sparkling lake, and I liberated a few cedars from their earthly toil.

Then I came home and found an email waiting for me from About Place Journal. They said that they love my submission of “Open Country: an allegory” and intend to publish it in their next issue. Nice way to end a weekend, but I immediately re-read my story because I’m always surprised when someone actually likes my stuff.

A lot of people worry that a writer will use them as a character in their stories. In this case, I worry that people will think the character in my story is me. True, there are many parallels. My character has a small cabin in the Ozark forest, and I have a small cabin in the Ozark forest. My character likes to drink too much beer around a campfire and get talkative. I like to drink too much beer around a campfire and get talkative. My character worries about forest fires burning down his precious cabin. I worry about forest fires burning down my precious cabin. My character cuts down cedar trees to help prevent fires from spreading. I cut down cedar trees to prevent fires from spreading.

But the subtitle of my story is “an allegory” and it’s pretty blatantly the case. I think from the opening line even the dullest reader can figure out what I’m doing. I had fun writing this in part because I had very clear direction from my theme and in part because I could draw so much experience from my own life. But I am not this man. What the allegory is standing in place of is not a value I hold. Yet I found it so perfect for my nefarious purpose and so tangible in my experience that I had to go with it. (When the piece goes online I’ll post a link and you can see if this paragraph makes any sense at all.)

I’ve flirted with this idea for a long time, and I had even considered it as background for one of the characters in my Fathers and Sons stories, but I dropped that idea early on. I wouldn’t want to write a sustained character who is like this guy. The story itself, once I started the actual work on it, came together quickly (unlike many of my stories that can take years to “finish”). It relies a great deal on dialog, which I don’t consider to be one of my strengths (assuming I have any strengths, of course). But I must have done something right because the editors liked it.

I had submitted my story to this magazine because they had made a call for stories about trees, (thank you Duotrope’s Digest) and as the allegory, cedar trees are central to the story. I figured my nefarious purpose would quickly disqualify the story, and I was already looking around for other possible markets for it (dealing in social justice). In fact, I was about ready to start resubmitting it around, but my busy weekend got in the way. And then the email arrived.

So I’m doing cartwheels down the hallways of my mind right now. Thanks for your understanding.

Explore posts in the same categories: short stories

Tags: , ,

You can comment below, or link to this permanent URL from your own site.

5 Comments on ““Open Country: an allegory””

  1. Teri Carter Says:

    What a perfect way to spend the weekend, and then top it right off! Congratulations, Paul.

  2. It sounds like a perfect weekend! I’m glad you were able to get out to the cabin and prep it a bit for spring and summer. Coming home to an acceptance is great — congratulations!

    I never assume a character in a story is the author (or someone the author knows). My big hobby is juggling. While I’ve never included a juggler in a story, if I did, it would be me. I’m sure some would think it was, though. I’ve always taken “Write what you know,” to not mean, “Write an autobiography under the guise of fiction,” but rather, “If you garden, it wouldn’t hurt if a character gardened; if you’ve done time in prison, who better to write about it than someone who’s been there?”

    As one who does not mind drinking beer around a campfire to the point of becoming too talkative, I look forward to the story!

  3. donnaeve Says:

    Hello Paul, I wanted to drop by and share this with you, and then of course, as usual, I find I’ve spent an hour out here reading. I’ve just bookmarked your blog so I can follow you and keep up!


  4. Hey Paul, I’ve been to the Ozarks, used to live in the Show Me…a long, long time ago. I can identify with the whole cabin thing, ours was in Maine. Congrats on the email good-news.

  5. Averil Dean Says:

    How did I miss this?? (Maybe because some writer-fellow does not have a ‘subscribe by email’ option on his blog. Ahem.)

    Anyway, belated congratulations, Paul! Well done.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: