As I continue to muddle my way through this manuscript–honestly, I don’t know sometimes why it’s like pulling teeth and other times it’s just comes right out–I am constantly amazed at how many other ideas I get when I am working on something; ideas that are infinitely more interesting and sound like more fun to write than whatever it is I am actually working on. AND IT HAPPENS EVERY SINGLE TIME. And once I am finished, the creativity and urge to work on something else goes right away.
Surely I can’t be the only writer who experiences this?
But as I think about these short stories, I remember probably the two finest collections of short stories ever–Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier and Night Shift by Stephen King. I recently bought another copy of Night Shift on ebay, as my copy is in a box somewhere. Both du Maurier and King were short story masters; in fact, when I was a kid I loathed short stories and loathed reading them; this was primarily because I had to read things like “The Minister’s Black Veil” ad nauseum in English classes. I wasn’t lucky enough to be exposed to the truly great stories, like Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” and Jackson’s “The Lottery” until I got to college; but even by then the damage was done; that, along with the assigned short stories in writing courses (if I ever have to write an essay on Irwin Shaw’s “The Girls in the Their Summer Dresses” again I cannot be held responsible for what I do) had conspired to create a mentality that I loathed short stories. My experience writing short stories in writing courses in various colleges and universities had also taught me that I wasn’t a good short story writer; any good short stories I might write for a class were good purely by accident because I did not know what I was doing. That still stands true for today; I would rather write a novel than a short story.
But I am digressing, as is my wont.
Reading the du Maurier and King short story collections made me aware of what was possible for a truly gifted author to do with a short story; just as Jackson did with “The Lottery” and Faulkner with “A Rose for Emily.” My own difficulties with writing short stories comes from not, I realize now, having an actual system; I get an idea–usually both a title and a first line; maybe a character–and then I just kind of write with no idea of what’s to come, or what the story is about. This is the issue I had with “The Weeping Nun”; I wanted to write a story to submit to an anthology about Halloween stories, and I had this great title with an amorphous idea for a story, a point of view character, and an opening line: Satan had a great six pack. The problem, as I started writing the story, was realizing that as it came to me it had nothing to do with a weeping nun; but I was determined to somehow force that into the story so I could use the title.
On reflection, it seems perfectly insane and ludicrous now; but I am nothing if not obtuse and I am incredibly stubborn in stupid ways. I liked that title, and damn it, this story was going to fit that title if it fucking killed me.
The end result was the story was never finished, I missed the deadline for submission, and there was just frustration left in the wake of yet another short story failure.
And of course, this week as I struggled with writing the novel, it came to me in a flash: the story I was writing had nothing to do with the story of the weeping nun; I should have simply retitled the story and followed it to its logical conclusion and saved the story of the weeping nun for another time.
Idiocy, really. So simple, but I just couldn’t see it at the time.
And now I want to finish writing the damned story, which I now see as being about the gates of Guinee on Halloween night in the French Quarter.
Heavy heaving sigh.
And now, back to the spice mines.
Here’s a hunk to cheer you up, Constant Reader: