The Back(hoe) Story

kobelcoYou will write a story.

The character will have some really physical job—banging nails or pouring concrete.

Driving a backhoe. For weeks, all you will see are backhoes.

You will ask your writing mates to read the story. They are seasoned writers and editors, familiar with your work, and you trust them to give you great input.

Meanwhile, you will sell the story to a lit magazine. When your friends show up with pages of notes, you will say, “Thanks, but I already sold that story. Would you like a beer?”

backhoeBeer, because the character in the story you just sold drinks beer after he punches out. And because you owe your friends several beers for screwing them over, even if not on purpose.

They will drink all of your beer and also have their sweet revenge.

Because no short story is perfect (unless Dagoberto Gilb wrote it).

Your friends will drink your beer and eat the kiss-up pizza you got for them, while they tactfully point out all the things that are still wrong with your story that’s going to get published.

You will go to bed but not sleep a wink over that tired phrase you used in the third paragraph. You’ll get up and write a long e-mail to the magazine editor asking if you can change a line or two, and how about that part where instead of going to the library the character goes to see the Dakota who runs the junkyard? What if tension isn’t building quickly enough in the front of the story, so can you cut some lines to get to the dramatics quicker? And the epiphany is implied but not obvious. Is that okay or should you add a line at the end to clarify?

You will not send the e-mail for fear that the editor will agree to the point of changing her mind about publishing the story.

You will instead e-mail your friends and apologize profusely for not waiting to receive their advice before sending off your story. Your flawed little story.

Your friends will forgive you, because they are classy and wonderful and truly your friends.

You will feel alternately joyful and embarrassed that your flawed little story will soon be in print.

You will vow to never, ever make that mistake again or to treat your friends so poorly.

And you will keep writing, because that is all you know to do, and now all you see are girls with suitcases.

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16 Comments

Filed under Notes from the coffee shop

16 responses to “The Back(hoe) Story

  1. Oh, Laurel. I am smiling so wide at this post. And I am feeling so bad and joyful for you as I think back to that day. Wes, at least, showed some class and soft-pedaled his response. I, as Wes pointed out at the time, had to give you my full input, showing that I have no class at all. Perhaps it was the beer that did it. Maybe if you had offered me champagne in a can, things would have been different. We will never know. The glasses have been emptied, the pizza eaten, and you will find that your fabulous story will please many readers in its current state.

    And I’d like to mention an anecdote from a LitQuake panel on the Short Story I attended last Saturday. The editor of a literary magazine (Narrative) mentioned that a little while ago, they were going to publish a story by Alice Munro, but the editor noticed that a section wasn’t working that well. The audience gasped! A story by Munro wasn’t perfect?! So the editor found the words to say something to this highly acclaimed author, who promptly smoothed the section. But the editor added that Munro kept fiddling with the story, striving to make it better and better up to the last minute before publication—implying that Munro could have kept tinkering and making it better forever.

    All this to say: You are in good company!

    I guess I need to send you a case of champagne in a can.

    • Here’s to champagne in a can! I love that you didn’t hold back your comments about my story, as it’s feedback I’ll take into the rest of the linked collection as I keep working on it. Really, don’t we start talking about the story as we’re working on it and then continue that conversation after it’s published and a few more people read it and hopefully chime in. I hope I keep getting comments about the story, which means someone else read it!

      That’s a great anecdote about Munro. I would have loved to see both versions of the story to see what she changed.

      My writing group here in Bellingham also read the story, so the very next day I had the same conversation with them. It is not a scenario I want to repeat anytime soon, but it’s also so interesting how it all played out, not to mention reaffirming at how great all of you are. Certainly, I learned from it, and it added a little adventure to the life of this story that I won’t forget anytime soon.

      And if anyone is wondering about the champagne in a can, look here:http://jilannehoffmann.com/2013/10/15/the-uncanny-hope-and-the-short-story/#more-1670

      xo Laurel

      • Wouldn’t THAT make a great writing instruction book! We get to see the various drafts a story moves through before publication. And then comments from the writer on the parts they’d still like to change. I think it would be a best seller.

        • I think you should write that book! I have no doubt you’d find authors interested in contributing. I always remember Stephen King telling about being tempted to change parts of The Stand when he went back and reinstated text to publish the longer version.

  2. Many thanks for the like. I hope you will stop by again soon and often! Namaste. . . .

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Susan! Good point, what else? Dancing boys?

  4. Dang! Life is a backhoe, Dagoberto Gilb, and conciliatory beers…lots of those. Who needs more? Love what you wrote here, Laurel.

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