Short stories: to read, and to write

The latest issue of the Center for Mennonite Writing’s online journal is up: this one devoted to “new fiction.” Editor Ervin Beck says the issue is intended “to encourage the writing of fiction in the Mennonite community.” Periodicals favour poetry, he notes. “Fiction requires more space from the publisher and more patience and commitment from the readers.”

For your patience and commitment then, seven new stories or novel excerpts, including the story “Chopsticks” by yours truly, in which the first person narrator weaves a tale of piano lessons, a train ride, her brother, and her father.

One of the goals I set myself several years ago was to put together a collection of short stories, containing some previously published stories as well as new work. I have eight published pieces from which I might draw, and about half that many others more or less completed or in progress. The publication of such a collection is by no means a given, of course; it may take as many years to find a publisher, especially in these uncertain times, as to write the stories themselves!

But in the meanwhile, I need to get back on track with the project itself. I lost momentum when I returned to the MB Herald last year as interim editor, and have had trouble getting it back, though my desire to continue remains strong. There’s just something about this kind of writing — perhaps because it’s a relatively new genre for me — that provokes all manner of self-doubt, fear, and procrastination. Each time I sit down to it, it’s like jumping into water over my head and knowing I still can’t swim. What’s the right technique again, for legs and arms, for breathing? Help!

Well, enough confession. Flannery O’Connor said, “The only way, I think, to learn to write short stories is to write them, and then to try to discover what you have done. The time to think of technique is when you’ve actually got the story in front of you.” So I’ve gone and declared myself here, and I’ve got the prod of my writers’ group’s monthly meeting on Monday, for which I must have something ready to read. The file of the story-in-progress is open. I’m jumping in. Again. 

2 thoughts on “Short stories: to read, and to write

  1. Dora, your honest, vivid, description will resonate with anyone who has sat in front of a blank screen, tablet, or iPad.

    I have never written a short story, but I am tempted to try the genre. Bonnie Jo Campbell’s American Salvage might interest you as an inspiration. She was nominated for both the National Book Award and the Critic’s Circle Award for this collection of inspiring and chilling stories of life in 21st century Michigan.

  2. Thanks, Shirley; and I’ve added the book/author to my “list.” Reading short stories, especially from the hands of those who are really good at it, is inspiring, for sure — not only for what one can learn technically, but also to remind how much a short story can “do” and why it’s still important that it be done.

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