Mess of a day. Kind of a notable day, date-wise. Today's the anniversary of the day I was forced off the deed of my house. There is a piece out there if one wants to read about that on the Quivering Pen, but I don't want to see it, frankly, so I'm not going to embed it here. Today is also the anniversary of the publication of Dark March. Not a coincidence, obviously.
Things are going poorly. Post Road will publish "The Last Field." That's the story that had been accepted by both Harper's and The Atlantic, which neither ran. I don't even want to think about the money difference, nor the visibility. That's done, anyway, I don't have to think about it. I've been going through things that came in and seeing what didn't. There is a lot of missing money, still, and not a lot of people getting back to me about it. An enemy of mine in the op-ed department at The New York Times had to step down. What that will mean--if it helps--I don't know. I'm not expecting it to. Wasn't crushed to see what happened to them, though. This guy was so unprofessional. He has a replacement, who I had pitched before, just a few times, didn't hear back, so I sent her this hockey thing that would be good. Other op-ed pitches to the Chicago Tribune, USA Today. Pitched a couple book things to The Wall Street Journal, after an editor there gave me a name, which I didn't have before. Had no clue this person headed up book coverage.
I signed the required contract so that F(r)iction can publish "Post-Fletcher." Me being me, I almost didn't see it in time. The way things have been, people have had to chase me down, and I feel bad about that. They commission original artwork for the pieces. I'll be curious what they come up with for that short story.
Edits came back for If You [ ] with Dzanc. Another thing I'm going to have to fit in.
Still haven't finished reading all of the emails. There are some from people about various stories. People I know, not people I send the stories to in publishing. (Well, a few of them are in publishing.) Sometimes there are surprises for me when I see the emails to the people who were sent the new work on the email chain.
For instance, I wrote a story called "Holds," which is all of 574 words. Wrote it in May. I did not think twice about it after it was done. I couldn't have told you anything in it. That doesn't mean what it might suggest if you're trying to be cynical. ("How good can it be if you don't remember it the next day?", etc.) What it really is indicative of is the reality that when I finish something, I'm done, I move on. My brain shuts off from that work so it can tend to what it needs to tend to. I am completely present in the moment of what I am creating. It can be like my past work does not exist, because what matters to me is what is next. I don't bask in the glory of some work I believe is a work of art. It's helpful, though, to get these notes. There were a number of them vociferously saying how good "Holds" was. Someone asked me where the hell does that even come from, and then they also quoted a line and I thought, damn, okay, that's a good line. So, I read the story again. And yes, it was excellent. I wouldn't have thought about it otherwise. It's useful to me to see that response. It makes me pause, and in that pause I take the time to properly value what I created, and that arms the story going forward. I won't sit back on it.
I wrote a story today called "The Skin Under Her Daughter's Eyes." It was well-designed. There are these online groups I've seen for the parents of estranged children. I thought about how a mother might follow their kid on social media, but they don't know their kid anymore. Maybe they're blocked from seeing the profile and then one day the settings are changed, they can see their kid again, there is the hope a parent must have--and must be frightened of--in these situations. When there's an estrangement, one of the parties often doesn't know or understand why. We can lack for self-awareness, lack for being able to see how our words or actions hurt someone else. The story is told from the mother's perspective, and we don't know why mother and daughter are estranged. But we see a progression, we see how these things can sometimes change, how the laying of blame alters. And we see the mother with her own mother, who is in a nursing home, and some days does not know who she is. In one way it's the story of three women, in another way, the story of one person. The people within one person. The story of one person insofar as one was a different person, one becomes a different person, so you're one person and you're also other people. We can see that in families, too, especially when one family member, in their own life, acquires the role that another family member already had. Like that of being a mother. It's written in sections. They're short. Each section begins with the exact same sentence. Then things change. One can see what that sentence is over on my Facebook author page, where I put a few lines today.
I'll be writing about Ornette Coleman for JazzTimes and an episode of The Twilight Zone for The American Interest, as well as a crucial component of genius for them, as pertains to a genius like Charlie Parker, stemming from a record he cut with Fats Navarro in 1950. Thought I could get a hockey op-ed assigned by The Wall Street Journal, but that was a total no-go. The last few pitches there have not gone well.
It's very frustrating that I have yet to place "Jute." It was a major story for me, and one that helped unlock this whole "super short word count-wise but super long life-wise" thing I've been doing quite a bit of. On the day back in April The New Yorker passed on twenty short stories, there was talk from them of the rhythms of "Jute," but I knew they wouldn't publish something that short, word count-wise. Not now. Not from me right now. Later, when I get to where I'm going, and the name has the value I believe it will. It's a great story. I'd say the majority of my stories right now, going back to last summer, have female narrators and/or protagonists, and "Jute" was one of the first of those. Certain stories open new worlds for me. They come at different times and stages of my career and journey: "The Bee's Knees," "Terry from the Cape," "Dark March," "Fitty." "Jute" was one of those. That list right there goes back over the course of twenty years. They are things that stick out to me that had me say, "Oh, you can do this now, too," then I went on to discover everything that was in that world, behind that door. I know what stories were responsible for getting me through a door.
Someone who brings "Jute" up now and again randomly referenced it in an email I saw today:
"All of the shite that passes for flash fiction today--a term I don't like to begin with--falls well short of the less-than-a-thousand-word pieces of yours I've read. Did like some of Robert Owen Butler's flash collection but none of it is better than 'Jute.'"
No, it is not at that, but that doesn't solve my problem right now, nor even my "Jute" problem as of yet. I am with him on the "flash fiction" label. I also know that if I write something that's 200 words long, it's not flash fiction. It's a full story. What "Jute" taught me I could do was put a novel's worth of meaning in the form of very few words. Again, it's that idea, that Tardis idea, of longer on the inside. It's very difficult to do. What someone else is going to do is give you a fragment, a scene, a vignette, and the shape will be flat. It won't be rounded. They won't have time to make the dimensionality. You have to do too much with each word, on multiple levels, to begin to make that roundness, and you also have to be able to make people feel like they know the characters intimately, instantly. You can't work up to it. Has to be immediate. It's almost like a magic trick of perception, but it's real.