Sunday, May 3, 2009

How Many Times Can a Girl Use the Word "Dead" Anyway?

Not that long ago, I opened my mouth and this fell out: "I am going to have my manuscript done by the end of May."

Because of this public admission, I'm now suffering strange (but small) panic attacks. I can be baking cookies or watching American Idol or grading essays and suddenly there's a hand around my throat, and it's choking me, and I'm thinking, Jesus, I am an idiot. Why did I have to go and say that out loud?

I guess it doesn't really matter that I said it out loud. I'm the type of girl who doesn't have a problem doing something after she's promised herself she will, but putting an end-date on my short story collection and speaking that date out loud and to multiple people has put another layer of pressure on me.

But, thankfully, I'm still working despite that pressure. And as I work, I am starting to imagine the shape of the story collection. I'm thinking things like, What story should go after this one? What story shouldn't go after this one? Is there a strong enough theme that fits all these pieces together in one collection? How can I best order the stories to help that theme?

It's like a puzzle, and as I edit and edit and edit, as I read these stories out loud and listen to how they will sound following one another, I am beginning to see patterns, to see the various ways I could slide this puzzle into place.

I've noticed some surprising things along the way, too. For instance, if you would've asked me a few weeks ago whether or not the general tone of my collection was hopeful or not, I would've said without a doubt it was. Then I started thinking about ordering the stories and trying not to bog the reader down in too much sadness when I realized--oh my God--this thing might not be as hopeful as I thought.

When it all boils down to it, here's a basic sketch of plots: girl dying; high school terrorized by kid wearing bird head; baby dead, parents drinking and acting out; girl contemplating cheating; another girl dying; guy setting ex-girlfriend's stuff on fire; kids getting ringworm, mother realizing she doesn't like them; doctor encountering quirky patient; husband dead, wife losing her shit; rapist escaping; boyfriend not who he says he is; cousins getting married, having baby, baby born with severe defects; restaurant workers losing jobs, forming unlikely friendships; high school science teacher hating her job and life.

Of course, the stories can't be boiled down to those little tags just as easily as that. Each story is about a lot of stuff, not just its general plot. Still, there are some chunks of that list that seem a little... well, sad. But I promise you there are some surprises. Some of the stories that sound the most depressing end up being the sweetest, the most hopeful, the greatest love stories.

This is one of the best parts of the whole process: taking stock, looking at everything you have written, and trying to put it together in the way to make everything seem right. Just looking at that list of stories makes me feel like my head is going to snap clean off my neck because those stories--those stories right there--I love them so much, so, so much, and I can't wait to hold the final print-off of the collection in my hands.

1 comment:

Diana said...


I cannot wait to hold your book in my hands, open it up, and read it.