Archive for December 2015
I got an email from the literary minds behind the website Extract(s) last week telling me they loved my story “State of the Union” and would publish it today. I was happy to hear that, and am even happier now that it is up on their website.
I haven’t quite taken to the notion of online publishing. It’s not the first time I’ve been published online (remember Imitation Fruit back in 2010?), and it won’t be the last, but in my mind the greatest legitimacy still lies in paper publication. As such, I don’t usually submit to online-exclusive publications. Regardless, when I was grinding through a batch of submissions about six weeks ago, I stumbled across Extract(s) and liked what they had to say about what they look for in prose submissions:
We are looking for fresh, well-crafted stories that make us cry and laugh and think. We want to be moved in some fundamental way in as few words as possible. Our readers should carry your characters with them as they go about the rest of their day—or longer.
I was pretty sure I had something they would consider. Turns out I was right. It helped, too, that I felt they had a worthy list of contributors over the past few years.
“State of the Union” came to me last winter in a flurry of short-short pieces I was writing. I had poetry on my mind after last year’s Poem-a-Day Chapbook Challenge, and the concision I had been practicing (along with the use of symbol, inference, and all kinds of other stuff) paid off when I got a few ideas for non-poetic writing. I wrote three short-short pieces, and “State of the Union” is the second to be published (I mentioned the first back in September).
I had been thinking at the time about something I learned at a reading I attended in the summer of 2014. The writer mentioned that he couldn’t teach anybody much about creative writing other than the basis of every story is plot, character, and language. I started thinking hard about language and how I use it in my stories, and paying attention to how I saw it being used in what I read. Plus, language is a big issue at my school—our students frequently “talk Zion,” as they say. With such a huge amount of diversity in the building, we are blessed with a mix of all kinds of slang and vernacular. I had the feeling that if I listened close enough, something would fall in my lap that would help me unfold a story. Right again.
The idea for “State of the Union,” though, didn’t come from a student. It came from a parent and the emails she flooded me with last year about how unfairly her daughter was being treated in my class. They arrived with such frequency that I began to hear helicopter blades chopping the air every time I read one. I picked a few lines out of her emails that genuinely showcased her language fluency and that I would reference in a conference because they were serious questions that a teacher shouldn’t ignore. But there was something more happening. She had a legitimate, if misguided, consideration about the institutional treatment of minorities who complain too much. That got me thinking deeply, and rather uncomfortably, about the racial situation in the country, especially in light of all the racially-charged police shootings of late. I felt I had something legitimate to say, and relating the basic facts of and honest reflections about my experience with that parent would be enough to say it. I designed it as a bare-bones story with no preaching or pontificating.
So I drafted and drafted, and had about half a dozen writer and teacher friends check my progress and offer editorial insights. No sooner had a finished the story than I happened upon a call for submissions for an anthology titled Race in U.S. Education. I submitted the story to the editors, thinking I had a good shot at making publication because of my story’s unique genre classification: flash non-fiction. Damned if I’ve heard back from Race in U.S. Education, though. I finally got tired of waiting for my story to be discovered and sent it elsewhere. I’m glad I did.
And you know what else? If you read this blog post, you might as well read my story since this post is longer than the story! Here’s the link: dailydoseoflit.com/
Thanks for checking it out!