The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Archive for May 2020

The Difference Between “Goddamn” and “Fucking”

leave a comment »

I had an excellent moment in my writing career about six weeks ago:  I was browsing the Easter candy at Jewel-Osco when an editor phoned me.  I wasn’t expecting it, but I knew the editor and had a good relationship with her based on a micro-fiction of mine she picked up three years ago.  I couldn’t talk to her at the time, what with an N95 strapped across my face.  But I called her when I got home, and BAM!  I was on the way to getting “Training and Comfort” published.

Thank god for leftover pieces of old Halloween costumes. Otherwise, how would I have survived the pandemic to this point?

This story, like a decent portion of my writing, came by way of working with my students.  I borrowed a prompt from flash fiction guru Kathy Fish from last summer’s High Altitude Inspiration:  You know a secret.  Might be yours; might be somebody else’s.  Write it down on an index card.

So I did that with my after-school writing students.  I wrote down “I know of a faculty member who is seriously mentally ill.”  No lie.  But then you draw a random card with somebody else’s secret on it.  I drew “I know a boy who wants to ask out a girl.”

What’s beautiful about this prompt is that you’re getting something random, and it’s already steeped with conflict.  In my case, this boy didn’t want anybody to know about his vulnerability.  Whomever he was, he was insecure and probably full of doubt (pro tip:  If you’re not feeling insecure and full of doubt when you ask someone out, you’re not asking out the right person).  So at least there was internal conflict.

My mind jumped to middle school, where it seems secrets like these are currency and about as common as quarters.  Specifically, I jumped to my middle school, circa 1984.  Then I jumped into a female point of view, and began to develop the voice of an over-confident yet very insecure and naive girl.  This was the fun part of writing, shaping the voice.  I developed a syntactic quirk that she picked up as a way of commanding attention:  Ending sentences with “but,” or making “But” an entire sentence unto itself.  “But” is a conjunction meant to offer a contrast to something previously mentioned, but my narrator had figured out that when used “but” by itself or in an unexpected place in a sentence, it kept people hanging on her words and held their attention.  From my story:

He is a little dumb, but. I mean that in a nice way.

I don’t know about all that. She hasn’t met a man since she met my dad. He’s okay. But.

That syntactic quirk might be fun for the reader to quickly decode and get into why the narrator uses it.  But.  It’s not enough to carry the story.  Pair that with some vulnerability the narrator isn’t even aware of in her own heart and mind, and you’re onto something because first-person short fiction works rather well when the reader knows something about the narrator by the end that the narrator doesn’t know about herself.  Got it:  The narrator is jealous of “Sarah Fucking Wilkins,” the girl her friend Steven is going to ask out.

So all of this was fun to put together.  But then it stopped being fun once I tried to get it published.  I sent it out to ten different publications, and it got rejected ten times.  I was in crisis with it and with another piece I wrote around the same time, both of which I really liked, knew to be quality flash fiction that represented some of the best of my writing ability, and that I really believed in.  The problem was something I discovered is happening in my preferred mode of writing, that a lot of places that want to publish flash fiction actually want stories closer to prose poems or that are heavily symbolic or metaphorical.  That’s not where I’m at.  I’m writing narrative-heavy stuff.  Relatively straight-forward but with more depth to discover upon multiple readings.

I laid bare this problem to two regarded flash fiction writers, both of whom told me the lack of publishing success wasn’t a matter of the quality of my writing, but.  It was a matter of finding the right venue.  When I petitioned that aforementioned editor, it was game on.  But.

My narrator, in previous versions of the story, referred to the unseen antagonist as “Sarah Goddamn Wilkins.”  This didn’t jibe with the editor, who promised to never publish something that took the Lord’s name in vain.  That really caught me off guard since the last story she accepted from me opened in the midst of the narrator administering cunnilingus to his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend.  But.  I’m not going to get into a debate about double standards and blah-blah-blah when the editor otherwise liked the story because I can respect her views without debating them.  What I am going to do is brainstorm an alternative to that name, hence “Sarah Fucking Wilkins,” and tell the editor I’m not married to “goddamn.”

That’s the kind of decision that gets an editor to unexpectedly call you when you’re deciding between spiced jelly beans and Peeps at the grocery store while being mindful of coughing.  The ironic thing is that in earlier drafts I thought “fucking” was too much for an eighth-grade girl in a busy hallway of a middle school, especially since she already talks about boys jerking off.

“Training and Comfort” gets me back on the publishing track, and I’m mighty thankful for that given my crisis of confidence over the last seven months.  And it seems just now that I’m on the fast track since I have a flash memoir coming out next week, and another flash fiction accepted for publication at an as-yet-to-be-determined future date.  More on those later.


Written by seeker70

May 23, 2020 at 11:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

%d bloggers like this: