The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Unpublishable; Unwinnable

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I read a transcendent article on the craft of writing about two years ago.  It came from Poets & Writers, which is a good source for a lot of things writing.  The slant of the article dealt with using forward momentum in the plot of a story—and forward momentum only.  Thanks for that, Benjamin Pearcy.  I had never thought about that before reading “Don’t Look Back,” but the more I thought about it the more it made sense.  I started to think about the stories I’ve used in my English and Creative Writing classes, and there it was all of a sudden, like a neon sign:  Most of them used forward momentum almost entirely.  And then a few other pieces fell in place about using dialogue to push a plot forward, and before long I had taken in a pretty damn important lesson about writing.  In fact, I felt like I had take a big step forward.  All I needed was a vehicle with which to practice, and of course since I was intentionally looking for a story to write, I couldn’t find one.  I had to wait.

A few weeks after my “discovery,” the Michael Sam controversy broke as the NFL draft was approaching, and on my drive into work one morning an entire story dropped in my lap.  Some news sources tried to make a story out of Sam’s father’s reaction to his son being gay, and a gear switched in my mind that opened a door, and out fell that story.  I drafted it out over the next two days, being mindful of using forward momentum entirely, and felt pretty good about what I put out.  It went through a few edits with a few friends, and I was heartened by comparisons to Shirley Jackson, who is one of my favorite short story writers.  I felt pretty confident as I started sending it out.

No dice.  It’s been rejected about 30 times, with only one “maybe.”  The editors at Midwestern Gothic liked the story well enough and emailed me back with a suggestion about tweaking a few things and they’d reconsider it.  I followed their suggestions and saw how it impacted the story, but still struck out when I sent it back to them.  Finally, I entered it into a creative writing contest at the local public library, but no dice there, either.  My final thought on the story is that it’s a good thing I have The Seeker!  At least I can put the story somewhere where more people can see it.  I’m going to put it up right now in two parts, the second to follow tomorrow.

Sure, this is a defeat because I couldn’t find a home for it.  Big deal.  I’m still learning a lot about fiction writing, and practice is so, so important.

*

Take Him to the River

By Jeff Burd

“Take him to the river.”

Leon said it.  Michael looked up from the other end of the table where he had sunk into himself and was staring into his lap at his folded hands.  Leon’s face was impassive.  His grey eyes held Michael in his seat.  Leon flicked the ash from the tip of his cigarette into the ashtray in front of him, and then let the remaining butt rest on the lip.  He spoke in a low tone.  “We’re going to stop this before it goes any further.”  

Father Bernard sat on one of the long sides of the table and slowly nodded his head.  The pale, loose skin under his chin creased and uncreased with each movement.  

On the other side of the one-room lodge, Big Jean leaned over the pool table and struck the cue ball with his stick.  The ball cracked against another ball, which dropped into one of the pockets with a dull thud.  Big Jean stood up and turned to them.  He let his stick slide through his hands until the bumper end thumped on the floor.  “What if he starts this coming out crazy talk when he’s there?”  He looked to Father Bernard, and then Leon, and then Guy, who was pouring Southern Comfort at the bar.  He lumbered over to the table and sat down across from Father Bernard.  “People are gonna start looking back at us.  What will they think?  We been pullin’ for Sam all along.  Supporting him.  The whole damn town.”

Guy moved to the table and sat next to Father Bernard with his whiskey in front of him.  A sweet, pungent alcohol smell rose from the half-full glass.

Michael leaned back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest.  “Sam won’t go for this.  Maybe he’s confused.  I’m not sure what to say to him.  He won’t go for another baptism.”  He looked to Father Bernard.  “Sorry, Father.”

Big Jean tapped a fat finger on the table.  “You’re still his pa.”

Guy piped in, “You still say what’s what.”

They were right, of course.  They were alluding to one of the centuries-old founding philosophies of The Faithful Servants:  To mainten the saintliness of family ordre.  Michael knew all eight of them, the same as everybody else in the room.  There was no arguing the philosophies, though Michael had absentmindedly opened his mouth to reply.  

The lodge was quiet in a way that Michael had never experienced, like every aspect of the place had been engineered to shut down in a crisis so the brotherhood could focus.  It seemed like even the cigarette smoke hanging in the air and the dark burlap curtains blocking the windows pressed noise down and away to create absolute still.

All eyes were on Leon, who still held Michael in his seat with his stare.  

Michael knew he had said far too much, and now he wished he hadn’t said anything at all.  It would be best to get in front of things before they got any crazier.  “Why take him to the river?  He’s been church baptized.”  He looked to Father Bernard, who nodded.  He continued, “I mean, that’s our ritual, too.  I know that.  But Sam’s not becoming a Faithful Servant.  He’s too young.”  

Leon shot back, “He will never be a Faithful Servant.  It’s not allowed for him now.”

Guy broke his gaze from Leon and turned to Michael.  “He’s right, Mike.  Plus, he goes to campus and they’ll kill him in the locker room.  Them linemen don’t go for that stuff.  Nobody does.  Sam wouldn’t have a chance.”

Leon nodded at Guy to continue.  “Is that how you want it?  You get a phone call from the coach or the athletic director?”  Guy looked to his Southern Comfort.  He seemed satisfied in having asked a difficult question.

Michael could only nod at what they were saying.  A phone call would be bad.  Maybe the river would work to wash away some of the notions the boy had brought up.  

It was quiet again.  Michael’s go-ahead was no longer a formality.  The others had settled on what they must do.

Leon looked to Big Jean.  “The river will wash this all away.”  He had angled his hands off the table like he was trying to hold something down.  He shook his head as he looked at Guy and Father Bernard.  He returned his gaze to Michael.  “Tell the boy you want to pull some blue cats out of the river.  It’ll be a nice father-son thing before he goes away.  And hell, maybe he needs to give you a chance to talk to him about what he told you.”

Michael shrugged and shook his head.  It would be best to let them get this out of their system, and then he would never bring it up again.  Never.

“Dawn tomorrow,” Leon commanded.  “Not at the usual spot.”

Big Jean nodded.  “There’s a spot downstream.  Around a bend.”

*

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Written by seeker70

April 17, 2016 at 7:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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