Friday, July 09, 2010

The Literary Equivalent Of Spending The Day In Sweatpants And Eating Bonbons

I blew off a big chunk of today doing unproductive family stuff. I might as well not have bothered. I might as well have worked. But when I finally decided to go that route, I wasn't left with a lot of time. So I decided to do some short story submission research.

Submission research is when you kick back reading some stories or essays looking for journals and other such periodicals/sites that might be interested in your work. It has become dramatically easier since so many traditional journals now maintain a web presence and since there are now so many journals that exist on-line.

Here's the thing, though--While I am interested in writing short stories, I can't say that I am all that taken with a lot of the short fiction that I read. L. Rust Hills stated that in a short story something happens to somebody. Something happens. But I often miss that, presumably because of the advent of the epiphany in fiction (Hills credits Joyce with that.), meaning that instead of a clearly stated "happening" someone in the piece of fiction experiences an epiphany that I've missed, either because I'm not sophisticated enough to pick up on it or because it was so interior to the character (and the author) that it is easily communicated to a reader. This reader, anyway. I also feel that a lot of short stories seem very similar thematically. The authors seem as if they've been struck by the fact that life sucks and feel a need to create fiction about it. Life's suckage is not what I would call a revelation. I need something more than that to keep my attention.

Often what I enjoy about a short story, when I do enjoy one, is a slice of life thing or the feeling of being transported, briefly, to another world.

This afternoon I was amazed to read three short stories in a row--one after another--all from the same site--Blackbird that kept me reading past the fourth or fifth paragraph all the way to the end.

I thought Mutinty by Joyce Cullity was breathtaking because it was historical fiction. I don't see a lot of that in contemporary short stories. For those of us who look to fiction to occasionally get us to hell out of Dodge, the past is as much of a foreign world as other planets. I don't know that there's any great theme going in Mutiny, but we can see how this woman's life changes from the first paragraph to the end. Though she did do something life changing, herself (her own little mutinty, you might say), it really has nothing to do with what happens to her. A little irony going there?

What's Buried in the Ground by Curt Eriksen also has a historical aspect, though its main characters, whose lives have a connection to those of two women murdered by fascists a few generations back, are contemporary. Those two young men shouldn't suffer the same fate as the women whose bodies they are looking for. But just how much have things changed?

I feel as if I might have missed something in Always the Obvious Places by Matthew Healy, but it's got that bored cop/small time habitual offender vibe going that some might find a little cliched but I find a little heartbreaking. Maybe these kinds of stories (with the right voice and style) work for me because when I was in college there was a very well known small-time habitual offender in our area of the woods, and years later I learned that when my mother was young she went out twice with one of his older relatives. These kinds of scenarios are probably realer to me than they are to more suburban types. Here in the 'burbs, I never hear about those kinds of people.

This weekend I will probably regret not having spent my time differently this afternoon. But right now I have a post-reading glow.

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