There must be at least a smidgen of personal experience in most novels and short stories: The setting, often, and some of the characters.
My Maury’s Mustang is fiction only to protect the guilty: Even though it happened long ago, the government must still disapprove of having its horses poached. In this not-really-fiction story, the model for Maury was my best friend in college and on the California ranch near the scene of the crime.
His daughter had told me he had Alzheimer’s; I’d hoped to get it into print in time that he might have memory jogged if she read it to him. I phoned her this week, only to learn that I’m too late; he died earlier this year. I treasure many memories of our years together; his first ride on a half-broken desert mustang among the most vivid — one that surely deserves recording. It’s a “Saddlebag Feature” in the thick Winter 2020 issue of Saddlebag Dispatches. You can read it ==>>here
Ordinarily, part of an author’s task is to describe the place, the setting where a story takes place.
Some years ago I encountered a different approach, especially appropriate for the increasingly popular short-short “flash” fiction: nothing but dialogue—not even a he-said/she-said—and let the reader fill in the rest.
Intimations of Mortality isn’t my first in this format; elsewhere here at my blog you’ll find The Whole Truth, Tattoos, Keepsakes, Surveillance and Customer Service. This latest kicked around for a year and a half . . . and then New Feathers editor Wade Fox snapped it up in less than a month. The third print volume of his anthologies is promised in late January, but meantime you can read my Intimations (and others) ==>>here
My short story “Strawberries” is a personal favorite that draws on a flood of memories, but it’s had a hard time seeing the light of day. It was accepted four years ago by The Violet Hour, a literary magazine that went defunct a few months later. When I finally figured that out, I sent the story off to another magazine called Aftermath. It, too, went out of business, although it took me long months to discover that my story was still homeless.
Discouraged, I sat on it for more than a year before trying Halfway Down the Stairs, an online-only magazine that had meanwhile taken another of my stories. They accepted it in three weeks; you can read it now ==>>here
Elizabeth Ann Atkins, one of the Two Sisters who awarded The Daddy Tree a prize, invited me to her weekly YouTube writing conversation. I of course accepted: Something new to try, decades after I was the one doing the interviewing on WFSB’s Face the State
I thought it went fairly well; you can see it ==>> here
I’ve never tried my hand at science fiction or anything like it, but when Two Sisters Writing and Publishing opened a contest for ‘magical realism’, I thought of the deep woods where my lifelong pal Steve and I played a bow-and-arrow game in our junior-high years. Two Sisters had published my “Limerence” as a winner in their 2018 contest anthology; maybe I could try giving that forest a voice.
They liked it: “The Daddy Tree” will be in the anthology they publish next year, and meantime is online ==>>at their website
It’s fun to observe and reflect on the regular visits of sons, daughters and grandchildren to a senior retirement community like mine. A year ago I was struck by the enthusiasm of a daughter who didn’t look in the least like the father she came to see and help. I was prompted to concoct a short story that was in due course turned down by more than a dozen literary magazines.
Then along came a call from a small press compiling an anthology of stories about “goodness in our lives.” Sure enough, in just over two weeks they snapped up my “The Redhead.” You can read it ===> here.
A literary magazine based in Texas, called The First Line, routinely invites stories using its opening words, and I sometimes use such prompts to stir up the writing juices. Last April they invited stories whose opening words were “The door was locked.”
I concocted a story appropriate to the pandemic era. They declined it, but another magazine, Montana Mouthful, invited stories on the theme of “quarantine,” and I sent it to them. Their door wasn’t locked; you can read it my story ==>>here.
First Line’s prompt for its next issue, by the way, is: “Loud music filled the room, making it hard to hear anything else.” Think about that one.
So It Goes, the annual publication of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, invited stories on the theme of “civic engagement”— and welcomed pieces earlier published elsewhere.
Calliope, then the magazine of the Mensa Society, published in 2016 my riff on the political campaign of Tippecanoe and Tyler too, built around the role of an imagined consultant. I offered it; the Vonnegut editor liked it — perhaps for a relevance to this year’s events. It’s out today, available in print here – or read it ==>>here
Canary calls itself “a literary journal that explores one’s engagement with the natural world, based on the premise that the literary arts can provide an understanding that humans are part of an integrated system.” I’d drafted a short story, drawn from my experience herding cattle just east of California’s Sierrra Nevada, that imagined an aging cowboy among the ancient bristlecone pines of that range. An inveterate punster, I called it Bristling Senescence. It’s out now in Canary‘s handsome online 50th edition
You can read it ==>>there
At the height of the pandemic isolation, I spent an afternoon streaming a favorite from The Met, Der Rosenkavalier — and began dreaming up what became less of a short story than a mood piece. I wasn’t surprised when a half-dozen literary magazines turned it down.
Then I ran across Flora Fiction, which calls itself “a collective of creative muses and inspiration. . . . reconnecting with your inner artistic child.” Sure enough, they liked it, and its out in their fall issue. You could read my story here at my blog, but the online version of the magazine is so colorfully handsome that it’s worth flipping through nine double pages (enjoy it full-screen!) to read my Harmonic Distance. Click ==>>here