Friday Feature ~ “The Mythmaker”

In the preface to the great collection titled The Stories of John Cheever, he notes that he’d left out the “embarrassingly immature” pieces. I remember reading that forty years ago when the collection first came out, and I thought that if a writer of Cheever’s calibre could admit to novice work, I should not be hesitant to say the same about my own.

I am embarking on a semi-regular post on the humble blog in which I visit my published stories and tell you something about them. My thought is that I will do this on Fridays — hence the clever title for the series — but I don’t promise to be consistent about making weekly entries. Still, here I go.

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“The Mythmaker” is my first published short story, appearing in the Spring 1990 issue of The Platte Valley Review. It’s astonishing to me that this was more than thirty years ago. I had been writing seriously for about five years by then (and keeping a writing journal even longer), but I’d had no success getting any of my (embarrassingly immature) stories published. Several well-intentioned people, who weren’t writers, told me the conventional wisdom they had heard, that it would take ten years of effort to get something published. I took that as a given at the time and surprised myself by doing it in five years.

My story is a sort of reminiscence by an old man whose family was an important part of Kansas City history but whose fortunes had fallen greatly by his generation. My city has something of a reputation for not knowing its own past. The story and characters are pure fiction, of course. I wrote it for a contest that a local magazine held for Kansas City stories, suspecting, rightly it turned out, that the winning story would be about a divorced woman having trouble coping with her divorce. The only component I missed in my prediction was that she did her laundry in a laundromat. Still, I thought mine was a pretty good story and I hung on to it.

Then I went to a writers conference at the Kearney State College in Nebraska. The focus of the conference was regional literature, which was something I was interested in at the time. This was my first writers conference and I was duly awed by being able to hang out with like minds, most of whom had credentials. By the end of the long weekend, when the conference was coming to a close, I happened to be walking down the hall beside a man attending, and he said, out of the blue, “So what do you write?” I told him I had a story about history and loss, and he said that he’d like to read it. Oh, also, that he was the editor of a journal called The Platte Valley Review published by that college.

When I got home I sent him my typewritten story — this was in the days before email was prominent, so it went by snail mail — and crossed my fingers. I don’t recall how long I waited to hear from the editor, but when I did, it was the best news in the world. He liked my story and wanted to publish it in his journal. I had done it!

For weeks, perhaps longer, I told no one my news. I wanted to savor it as my own private delight. It may have only been when the five contributor copies arrived in a bulging brown envelope that I shared my secret. I don’t recall, but I do remember how it made me feel at the time, that I could do this thing I had so much dreamed about since I was a child.

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