Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Short Story Immersion

I have been immersed in short stories lately. I just finished "The Dead Fish Museum" by Charles d'Ambrosio last night. The stories are rough around the edges, in a good way. I remember enjoying almost every story as I read them but honestly not one paricular story stands out against the rest. To be fair that could be because of all the other stories I've read lately. Like the entire spring issue of "The Missouri Review." I rarely ever finish an entire issue of any literary journal much less read it cover to cover in two days. But that's what happened this time. I read every story, essay and poem word by word. And there's a great interview with David Sedaris. The theme for the issue is Love and Lonliness. Maybe that appeals to me. For whatever reason, I was immediateley drawn into each and every piece from the couples at the "lifestyle" resort to the father and son who both fall in love to the philosophy student who tries to put his relationship in some kind of context against the back drop of a marathon. I especially enjoyed the two essays so much that they make me want to try my hand at one myself.

I received the new Narrative on-line and read a great new story by Ron Carlson as well as an in-depth profile on Ann Beattie. While meandering blogs in between my own writing I found myself linked to 2 other short stories, both involving hands. One is by Benjamin Percy. You can find it at Then there is this one by Elizabeth Graver at These also inspire me. Now I want to write a story that uses a hand in a surprising way. The there's this new story by Kate Walbert that all moms can relate to:

I'm thinking I need a break from short stories now. Not sure what is next but I love this feeling of not knowing. I love being in this space in between books and browsing through my shelves at leisure until the next book I am meant to read falls into my lap.

With all this reading you'd think writing has taken a backseat but that is so not the case. I finished yet another draft of "Japanese for Butterfly' and am letting it sit for a while as I work on the next story. I hauled out this five inch thick binder yesterday that has all the stories for this book so far. I grabbed the next 2 to get an idea of where I am and saw that much can and should be cut from both and that they are actually one story in different seasons- winter and summer. At one point I had over forty pages strewn across my living room floor as I made a list of all relevant scenes. I worked on it yesterday and the story and characters percolated all day no matter if I was cooking, doing the dishes or watching TV. I had to come back to my office and scribble down notes as new things came to me.

I wrote these stories a couple of yeas ago. The copies I have contain notes from people no longer in my writing group. It's been a humbling and interesting process. So much time has elapsed making it is easy to read with an objective eye. I noticed this embarassing habit I had of writing what I can only call purple prose. I read and crossed out passages with this vague sense anxiety. I knew there was a word for what I was reading but it wouldn't come to me. At some point the term "purple prose" came up in my reading and I googled it and found this: "Purple prose is sensuously evocative beyond the requirements of its context. It also refers to writing that employs certain rhetorical effects such as exaggerated sentiment or pathos in an attempt to manipulate a reader's response." Yep. That's what I did. God, it was excruciating to read. The good news is that I've obviously (uh, hopefully?) grown out of that particular writing pitfall. Oh, I'm sure I'll stumble across many more as I continue.

As part of my writing process, I am filling up pages with writing practice. Yesterday the topic was "Write about a cold snap." I started by writing that this topic does not inspire me at all, blah, blah, blah. But I stuck with it for three pages and the beignnings of a brand new short story with brand new characters emerged. I keep telling myself it's all about just showing up. Apparently that's true.

Made a birthday card for a friend. Took a picture of it. And, yes, I still need to learn how to post photos. But first I need to learn how to get them off my camera.

"With good writing, I think, the most profound response is finally a sigh, or a gasp, or holy silence."
- Tim O'Brien


Anonymous said...

i would love for you to write an essay. I think it would be beautiful! As I said sunday, everything is upside down...the fiction writers are writing nonfiction and vice versa.

Kim Haas said...

Thanks, Courtney. Yes, it's all quite tospsy-turvey. But a great perspective to shake out some fresh writing.