Posted tagged ‘Unfinished Business’

Friday Feature ~ “Unfinished Business”

April 30, 2021

They say that every writer has to write the story he has about a friend’s death, and every writer has a friend who died. The point is to get it out of your system so you can get busy with your real writing. I guess that applied to me, but I managed to get my story about this, “Unfinished Business,” finally written and published.

The writing of this story dates back to my St. Louis life, so more than 30 years, and the origin of this story is in my early teen years, which is a terrible count of years. It is based on the actual death of my best friend at the time. The story tracks pretty closely with our friendship. We were really not much alike. He was sporty; I was a reader. I had a huge family; he had just his mother. We went to different schools. But we lived two houses away from each other, and we were the same age. We did stuff together and hung out, and I guess that was enuf. Sometime shortly after I entered high school I learned that he had “spots on his lungs,” which my mother told me was cancer. As in my story, he had already lost his arm to cancer, and it had moved into his lungs. I was wholly unequipped emotionally to accept or understand what was happening at the time, and I recall several adults taking an interest in me because I seemed so unaffected by it. I guess they never saw my episodes of rage. (My mother’s friend in far-off Connecticut even wrote me a letter trying to help me understand what I was going through.)

And that is the foundation of this story. The character is grappling with his unresolved emotions; he is haunted by the ghost of his friend. They say that ghosts linger because they have unfinished business in the life they cannot quite leave. That felt like a perfect metaphor for how my character (and I) saw things. He struggles to make sense of what he didn’t and still doesn’t understand about himself, and he tries to fabricate a happy ending, which he knows won’t happen.

To this day I still feel the loss of my friend. Or rather, I feel the hole that seems to be inside me about him. I actually think about him often, even after nearly half a century. I have visited his grave several times over the years. It took me more than 20 years to get this story finished. It went through various very different drafts and had a number of titles. But I think once I settled on the character being haunted by the matter, I knew how to resolve the story.

It was published in the Green issue of Midwest Literary Magazine in 2010. I have no records on how I came to submit to this magazine though I suspect that it had to do with the Midwestern setting. I had only submitted it to two other publications at the time. Now Midwest Literary Magazine is defunct and the bound copy with my story in it is the only thing I have left.

writing from experience

May 21, 2012

My story “Unfinished Business” is about memory and the childhood¬†death of the narrator’s friend. They say that every writer must get a few key stories out of the way: their first experience with love, with disappointment, leaving home, their first experience with death. “Unfinished Business” is based on an incident in my youth, and I had worked on the story for more than ten years before I got it to what I considered final form. It went through various structures, points of view, narrators, and titles.

What it didn’t go through, however, was research. I crafted the story solely from memory and imagination.

I think I may have mentioned here before that I was once in a writing group in which one of us had written story about death. My fellow writer had researched the Kubler-Ross model of the 5 Stages of Grief and then had her protagonist go through each of them in proper order through her interior monologue. In our discussion of her story, the writer pointed out how accurate her portrayal was.

Years later, when I first began fiddling with what would become “Unfinished Business” I remembered that woman’s effort and thought I needed to study the 5 Stages so I could write my story “properly.”

But somehow I escaped making that mistake. I’ve never been one for conventional wisdom, and given that my story would be based on my actual experience, I realized it didn’t matter what the “official” process was; my experience was just as “official” as any other. I was going to write my story. And that’s what I did.

I suppose someone with an objective eye could read that story and identify at which points I (well, my protagonist, right?)¬†hit on each of those 5 official stages, but I wouldn’t want to know that. I think if I had set out to write the story with that structure in mind, I never would have gotten past merely that, and the story would have probably languished.

I’ve been working on some other stories of significant life events in the lives of my characters (for those Fathers and Sons stories), and while one is not based on my actual experience (first love), I really don’t feel the need to research the feelings or the experience of it to know I’m doing it “right.” I think I can trust my imagination to create a credible, realistic story. (Granted, I have sent an early draft to a couple of readers who can give me perspectives I don’t have, but that doesn’t seem to be the same thing as looking up some “official” script.)

For the most part, I’m keeping my own counsel, comfortable in the conviction that a serious writer is creating, adding to the collection of scripts, inventing the world.

Lofty thinking, I know, but it gets me through the days and nights.

More “Unfinished Business”

October 10, 2010

My story “Unfinished Business” is now up at Midwest Literary Magazine. It’s in the August 2010 issue, and it begins on page 60. I’ve made the link here, but I haven’t figured out how to take you directly to the story. There is a small box at the top center (in my brower, which is Firefox) where you can key in the page number — 60 — and press Enter. That should take you to my story. (Click to embiggen.) Also, they seem to have left the title off, so it may not be apparent that the story starts right after the epigraph from Don Juan.

I count this among my “serious” fiction (though I’m serious about each piece I write). Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.

“Unfinished Business”

September 2, 2010

A long time ago, last spring it was, I sent one of my short stories off to a magazine that I thought might be interested. Then I mostly forgot all about it.

It’s an old story of mine, begun more than twenty years ago. I consider it a literary effort. It had gone through various incarnations and titles, beginning as “Tom’s Death” and then “A Dark Beast” and finally “Unfinished Business.” They say that ghosts haunt the earth because they have some unfinished business. While there are no supernatural elements to my story, my character is haunted by something he felt he left unfinished. Nor could I leave the story alone all those years.

As I said, I mostly forgot about the submission, and when I did think of it, I didn’t imagine it had been sent in so long ago.

Today in my email I received an update on my submission. It contained a link to the magazine’s website, and when I logged in (astonishingly, I remembered my password!) I saw that my status had been updated from “pending” to “accepted.”

I think that means they’ve accepted my story for publication. Neither the email nor the link gave any more information. It’s as though there is still some unfinished business about this story. I’ve sent an email to the magazine’s general address — it’s all I could find — so I hope to hear something more complete soon. Should it be a confirmation of good news, I’ll be sure to share it with you.

I happened to go to my email because I was having trouble submitting a different short story, “Diaspora,” to a different magazine. I wanted to write to this other magazine to ask them if they were having trouble with their submission mechanism, which had kept rejecting my input. That’s when I found my cryptic good news. (I never sent the email to that second magazine because I figured out why my submission was being rejected. I did not have the .doc extension on my file. That fixed, the submission went through. Perhaps some good news will come of this too.)

Update: I received an email from the editor telling me my story will appear online this month and be published in their upcoming anthology. The magazine is Midwest Literary Magazine. The link will take you there, but I’ll try to give you a specific link to my story when it appears.

And I want to give a shout out to Duotrope’s Digest, which has once again given me the lead that led to publication.

Further Update: I first wrote about this story in this post.