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“Buck Up, You Fool!” or Crying at Your Own Writing

I’d been working on the short story for years. An early version was workshopped in Richard Bausch’s Moss Group. Later, the story received an Honorable Mention in the Memphis Magazine Short Fiction Contest. But I’d never successfully placed the story for publication anywhere. That’s because it wasn’t right.

“Ain’t No Commies ‘Round Here,” is included in The Vagrant Nature of Love collection. I’m currently reading all the stories aloud and timing them, in my pie-in-the-sky idea that I will podcast the readings, making the stories available to folks who don’t usually read short stories. Ten of the stories have been published in literary journals but, for those that haven’t been, I’m revising as I read aloud.

This brought me back to “Ain’t No Commies.”

The story involves an uncle, a nephew and a living wage ordinance. It begins with a bang—the child is saved from dying—then settles into a good story of a reunion when the nephew is a young man. The problem with its drafting arose in the last two pages of the story, inside the lesson the uncle learns from their encounter.

A while back I realized the dilemma. Some of the stories in the collection masquerade as relationship stories, when their true point is justice-oriented—a young grocery clerk starving in the land of plenty. I thought “Ain’t No Commies” was such a story. It isn’t. The meat of this story is the relationship; the living wage is the vehicle. My mentor, Rebecca McClannahan, called this phenomenon, “The thing and the other thing.” The thing being what is happening on the surface; the other thing being the emotional movement beneath the story. I had the two switched.

So, today, when I read, I went to work again. Hours later, I clicked my timer and began reading aloud. When I arrived at the last two pages, my voice cracked. “Buck up, you fool!” I told myself. But it just got worse. That’s how I knew I’d finally nailed it: when you’ve worked on something for years and know full well what is going to happen next, yet you’ve drafted it in such a way that the words make still you cry, you’ve hit the sweet spot of the story.

here’s to creative synthesis . . .

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