Something Different is Happening Here
I opened the hand-addressed notecard. The graceful penmanship thanked me for my short story. I flipped the envelope and read the address: the writer was my neighbor. She had read “Just Now” in Memphis Magazine when the story won its annual fiction contest. I tucked the note away with other notes I’ve received over the years, those I want to keep. Of all the times my work has been published in literary journals, this note from my neighbor is the only time I remember someone in the wide world reading my fiction and responding.
Something different is happening now.
This summer, I am releasing my short story collection in audio, an initial four stories then one per week thereafter. I’m still at the beginning of this experiment; I’m only on story number 6. Yet, the difference in how I’m experiencing this publication experience is phenomenal.
I have people emailing me, Facebook messaging me, smiling at me when I run into them in the store. They are going out of their way to tell me how much they enjoy what they are hearing. They comment on the characters by name; they tell me the scenes that vibrated for them.
Why did I publish in literary journals? Because I was told to do so. Build your resume, they said, secure publications to include in your query letter—show agents you’ve got some chops. Better yet, maybe an agent will read your work and call offering representation. As a former lawyer, I saw the sense in this. Plus, to a certain extent, it worked. I have a “resume.” I made great contacts with editors, judges, etc. My work appeared in incredibly beautiful journals, themselves works of art. And, oh, my goodness, did I enjoy getting my work accepted by someone who had the background and position to call my work good.
“Ordinary readers” reading (well, listening) to my fiction takes things in an altogether different direction. The listeners are impacting the stories. For when I think of the stories now, I picture my friend sitting on the couch in the rain, listening to my words. Or another waking up, listening to my voice. Or laughing out loud at something I wrote. Or zipping down the interstate, repeating with gusto my quirky character’s mantra.
The readers are doing something I’ve read about concerning art, the artist, and those experiencing art, something about the triangle of relationship; the role the listener/viewer/reader plays in completing the work. I think this is why the reaction to my fiction feels so different from the feedback I’ve received over the years on my nonfiction book and essays. The listeners are making real something that otherwise is not.
This is brand new to me. Not to mention tons of fun, which was why I set out on this audio experiment in the first place: it sounded like fun. So far, so good.
Remember: You Cain’t Do Nothing with Love