It’s fun sometimes to look back at how an idea germinates and — often too slowly — blossoms into a story. The seed of “Méchant” was an overactive little boy playing with a toy car while his overworked mother waited (with me and others) to see an orthopedic doctor at UConn Health Center. I imagined another patient volunteering to help with the little boy, and drafted a pretty good description of the setting. I tried calling it “Naughty Boy” and then “Novice Nana,” but it stubbornly refused to grow into a story with a narrative arc. I set it aside, but came back to it with the notion of developing the novice nana into a frustrated woman who wished she had children of her own. From the start I’d given her enough French fluency to think of the little boy as méchant. I dimly remembered — had to look up — a more nuanced alternate meaning, not just naughty but wicked. The theme for the next edition of Nightingale & Sparrow was renaissance, and I now had the novice nana entertaining wicked thoughts of her own rebirth. Perfect fit. Out now, available at Amazon with a bunch of other good short stories, or here at my blog
I have to confess that I almost wrote “Windfall” as a first-person non-fiction piece, a kind of chapter that might have been added to my Jamaican memoir.
But precisely because the incident and its aftermath are real, and all but one of the characters are still living, I decided to make it into a short story, and add a closing twist entirely different from my own experience.
I think it’s still a gripping story. The editor of the Lowestoft Chronicle had earlier printed “Monseigneur,” my account of my first nights in Phnom Penh. He liked this one, too, and it’s now available online at ==>http://lowestoftchronicle.com/issues/issue37/donnoel/
I’ve tried for several years to write about Alzheimer’s disease, without success. Too painful, I suppose. A writer is supposed to work his life experience into his work, but I haven’t until a few months ago been able to do so.
Then Zimbell House, a publisher of short story anthologies that’s taken several of my earlier works, invited stories that developed a strong sense of community in a town that should be named November Falls. Place it anywhere, in any time, but make the community one that readers could readily identify and empathize with.
As I toyed with the idea, I decided my fictional town ought to be upstream from some very real towns on the little rivers that flow out of the Adirondacks and become the Hudson — but a town time had passed by, a frail shadow of its former self. It wasn’t then a big step to make the protagonist a man visiting his mother, resident of a cruelly named “memory care unit,” whose life story matched the town’s.
It worked; Zimbell editors liked it. It’s out now in bookstores and online, a compilation of nine authors’ imaginings of a town called — like the book — November Falls. You can read all nine in paperback or as an e-book, or read my version ==>> here
“Great story!” Bill Patrick, a published author and scriptwriter, sought me out to to admire a short story I’d written for a seminar he would teach in my Fairfield MFA program. We each wrote and circulated, before gathering, a piece to be critiqued in such seminars; it was unusual for a professor to comment before classes met and students had first crack, but he thought it an unusual story.
With help from him and my classmates (who also liked it), I improved it during that fortnight. We each did a reading to the student body and faculty. I read “Exoneration”, to applause.
I began sending it out — and sending, and sending, with growing discouragement. How could editors turn down a story everyone in the MFA program liked?
Three years later (!!) it was accepted by Aestas, an annual anthology. Then, to cap off my frustration, publication was delayed and delayed again!
It’s finally out, a year late, “Aestas 2017”. The whole book, a good collection of short stories, is currently bargain priced at Amazon — or you can read it ==>>here
In 1981 — 37 years ago! — Brad and I hiked (with a safari group of 4-H kids half our age) about an hour above the 10,000-foot ranger station on 18,000-foot Mount Kenya — and were told of an American who’d gotten lost recently, in a stunted landscape prowled by buffalo, elephants, monkeys . . . and leopards.
I skipped the next morning’s lion-chasing trip to sit in front of our pup tent and bat out a first draft of a short story based on that fragmentary account. I remember looking up to realize I was the object of fascination by a half-dozen Masai women who’d never seen anything like the flyweight typewriter I always traveled with.
Fast-forward 32 years, when I made re-writing that story a significant part of my Fairfield University studies, and ultimately part of my MFA thesis. One of my most prized gurus urged that I develop the character of the would-be rescuer, which I did. Also, I’d originally told part of the story from the leopard’s point of view. He said no, can’t do that (even though, as I noted, Ernest Hemingway used an African lion’s point of view in “The Short Happy Life of Francis McComber”). Out came the leopard.
I’d made a few pre-MFA efforts to polish and place the story. Now I went at it with new energy — but with no better result. Last year, a hint from an almost-took-it editor persuaded me to make the leopard visible again, although I accepted the wisdom of my MFA classmates in our postgraduate writing group to make it an insentient animal — describing its actions, but not (as Hemingway had) imagining its thoughts.
It took several more rounds of rejections before D.S. Davidson, editor of the online Tigershark Literary Magazine, invited stories placed in the Southern Hemisphere. My story was a bit longer than he wanted, but he had me send it, and liked it. It’s out this week, the centerpiece of his Issue 18 (on pages 9-19). Read it ==>here
I wrote “Matches” to address a literary magazine’s challenge: a short-short story featuring repeated use of a sound. I tried pffytt! to catch the resonance of a struck match fizzling out. That first magazine’s editor didn’t choose it. The next I tried liked it, but couldn’t fit it in — and noted, correctly, my debt to Jack London.
Calliope, a publication of American Mensa (to which I’ve never belonged or applied) had published the first story I got into print after completing my Fairfield University MFA, “Consultants.” I tried them again; they liked it. It’s just out in Summer 2018 Issue #160. I got a paper copy in the mail today. For whatever reason, their online version isn’t posted yet, but you can read “Matches” ==>here:
(And my 2013 Calliope offering, “Consultants,” ==>here:)
It was titled “Second Chances” when I wrote it, a germ of an idea spun into a short story that I knew would have limited or no appeal to the young adults, MFA students, who edit many of the country’s literary magazines. I sent it out to several anyway. No takers.
Then I stumbled across the word limerence. I had to look it up to be sure I knew the meaning. Sure enough, it exactly described the mindset of my protagonist. So I renamed the story — and inserted a definition before the story began, since I assumed most readers wouldn’t recognize the word any more than I had.
Now I had a story unlikely to interest younger editors or readers, titled with a word few would know, with a dull dictionary definition preceding the story. Where to send it?
Aha! I remembered two sisters based in Michigan who run a monthly online contest, and had liked but ultimately not picked an earlier story of mine. While not nearly as ancient as I, they might be open to this unusual story.
They were: It’s one of two ($75) prizewinners this month. You can read it by clicking ==>>here
Pilcrow & Dagger, a Georgia literary magazine, was compiling an anthology of short stories on the theme “black sheep”. I had a story about an unwelcome mourner at a burial service, which I thought might fit. It did. Volume 4 Number 4 is available at Amazon and other booksellers, but you can read it now ==> here
What’s a pilcrow? It’s the typographical icon for a paragraph. And what prompted my writing this story last November? I haven’t the faintest recollection!
I wrote a first draft of “Wandered” in 2007 — long before even a hint of the Alzheimer’s that would overtake Brad, and several years before undertaking my Fairfield MFA. I can’t even remember what triggered the idea of a son’s efforts to retrace the steps of a dementia-stricken father who disappeared without a trace. Maybe I read something about Eskimos, whose supposed customs crept into the text.
In any case, I set it aside — until Zimbell House early this year solicited manuscripts for their their proposed anthology of stories about people who disappear without a trace. I resurrected my draft, improved it considerably, and sent it off, with more than usual confidence. Sure enough, it was accepted in mid-April, and is now in bookstores.
The package in the mail was unexpected: The May 2018 issue of the California-based Penumbra Art and Literary Journal, which includes my“Sweet Charity”. I’d completely forgotten the short story had been accepted.
More than a year ago a friend asked if there shouldn’t be a law against panhandling in a nearby town. I said no right away, but continued to think about the question. “Sweet Charity” was the result — and I owe the ending to my Fairfield MFA pals, who didn’t like my original and sent me back to the keyboard.
Counting three stories that will be printed in the next month, by the way, this brings me one shy of an even four dozen stories published.You can read this one at page 86 of the online version of the magazine, but it’s easier found ==>right here