Where Stories Come From

If you write short stories, you know that typing “The End” is really the beginning. From there, it’s often a long haul to find just the right spot (i.e., appreciative editor) for your tale. And, you may end up re-working it a bit; as time passes, you may hear a few shortcomings crying out for revision.

Even when a story is written in response to a request for works of a specific type, or on a specific theme, or in a specific time period, acceptance isn’t guaranteed. I insulate myself against the pain of possible rejection by keeping track of the next place(s) I should send a story. If it comes back to me, I send it right out again, maybe with some revisions. Like they say about the state lottery, “if you don’t play, you can’t win.” Or, perhaps more appropriate, our state lottery’s new motto, “Anything can happen in Jersey.”

My story “Duplex” has logged a lot of cyberspace miles, and I’m delighted to say it has now been published online (available free to YOU) on the website, The Green Shoe Sanctuary. This good news prompted me to think back to the story’s origins.

If you live in the northeast, you’ll know that here, at least, duplex houses (one above, one below or side-by-side) are fairly common. Driving home one day, I passed a duplex on a sharply angled corner lot that required one half to drop back a few feet. Immersed at the time in Little Dorrit, in which Arthur Clennam’s dismal family home is like another character, I thought, “If Charles Dickens saw that house, he’d make it part of the story—the withdrawn, unprepossessing side and the proud, thrust-forward side.” (At the end of Little Dorrit you read with relief that Clennam’s malignant house collapses.)

“Duplex” begins by explicitly stating this contrast and evoking Dickens. Only in the second paragraph does it move into the situation of the main character, Cordelia Faye Watters, a young Vietnam War widow in the 1960s. Here’s that opener:

If only a perceptive social commentator like Charles Dickens had dissected the significance of a particular two-family house in Pinterville, Virginia! Anyone could describe its remarkable physical appearance, divided down the middle like a discordant married couple, the two mismatched halves physically split. But only a Dickens would appreciate the possible impact of this arrangement on the house’s occupants. The disheveled half, on the left, hung back some twenty feet or more, while its tidy neighbor, porch painted white as good intentions, sat primly forward. This isn’t my usual crime/mystery story, clearly. Cordelia’s challenge is to open her eyes to the variety of riches and responsibilities of the world around her. I hope you’ll read it and let me know what you think!

1 thought on “Where Stories Come From

  1. Interesting little story. More mainstream than mystery. Good job. the late, great John D. McDonald used to follow a similar submission regimen. He would send a story out and then start working on something new. if the story came back, he’d send it to the next place on the list. Good luck

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