“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.