Letters from Home

Message from the Coffeehouse

StrumBeing friends with other writers is always an elaborate game of Telephone: I’ve got Dixie Cups attached to email and blog strings all over the world.

Here’s one whisper from Jenn, today, a new writing friend in the Small State. She sends regards from Stephen King, a fellow Stratfordian (he grew up here anyway) from the Holy Grail of Ivory Towers about the welfare of the short story.

On what grand scale should short stories stand? Should we slather them like pink icing on a cold, crumbling literary cupcake? As if the recipe is dissolving and can’t be remade. Something about the romance of the short makes us cling to them, as if they have again arrived on the scene like riddle solvers and magic makers. There is definitive hierarchy of goodness in the literary world: the shorter, the better. The more ostracized, the more relevant.

We cling to our underdogs like warrior lovers.

There is something about the way we remember things, isn’t there? We’d forage for old boards to build the perfect frame just so: Dorothy Parker’s life becomes the form we should pour our wet, writerly concrete into. Memory has a way of flattening light, obscuring shadow, forgetting the hard cold hours it took the thick substance to solidify.

A certain age makes one melancholy. A certain fame gives one’s ideas weight. A certain action — groveling on the floor, scraping like a mesely janitor, for the Iowa Review — makes one a romantic hero.

Oddly, the short story prevails, beyond our posturing. It shifts and let’s itself be taken for rides. It is published or tossed aside. But it prevails. Not because of the New Yorker and certainly in spite of Atlantic Monthly(correction here).

It prevails in the hard chairs of the coffeehouses, the damp garretts, the unread blogs, the frustrated fiction writing exercises, the slush piles and the Stash. Writers carry it along in their dreams.

Lucky talent basking in Carnegie Hall. But the strum of an A-minor chord echoes lovely and forlorn at open mike night.  

Talent can’t help itself.
–Stephen King

2 thoughts on “Message from the Coffeehouse

  1. <p>D-man, you rule! I corrected this post, you’ll see. My angst about short fiction being missing from Atlantic Monthly was misdirected at Harpers.</p>
    <p>Atlantic Monthly used to have fiction in every issue, but they eshewed it for MORE “investigative” (read inflated, terrifying) reporting. </p>
    <p>The best and most thought provoking reporting is still being found in New Yorker, Harpers, Mother Jones, Orion, and Vanity Fair.</p>

  2. What? You don’t like Harper’s short fiction choices? Are you demeaning the short story? Or just commenting of the fact that the genre doesn’t receive the respect it desrves? Writers…I tell ya: they love the gray and bask in not explaining their work to those who care. Strange bunch, those friggin writers.

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