I suppose the time is approaching for me to admit that I am not, and possibly never will be, a writer of short stories. At the very least, this current effort can no longer compete in that genre. I hold out hope that it might be a novella, but I confess to not knowing the requirements for that genre, and I can’t quite bring myself to find out.
- I posted a piece called “Ordinary Rituals: A Story,” but that was one of those classic cheats–an edited chapter from a novel.
- I finally challenged myself to write a story from scratch. It was to be a story about my grandmother.
- At the end of the month, I was still calling it a story and still writing.
October and half of November:
- The blog was silent.
November and December:
- I published one blog each month about problems with Chapter Nineteen of what, by that time, I had abandoned all pretense of calling a short story. I managed to make a few smart remarks about my high school boyfriend.
- I continued to write.
- I rescued from the flames of an old website several blogs about the artist Joseph Raffael.
- It crossed my mind that somehow combining photographs of my grandparents at two different stages might, as a cover, suggest a novel about a marriage over time. I spent the entire month and more juxtaposing and printing photographs for every friend and family member I know. I created a great book cover. I was taking a break from writing.
- I had to reorganize and rewrite Chapters Twenty-Seven through Twenty-Nine.
- I have just completed a draft of Chapter Thirty.
I am still writing.
And I did, finally, do a bit of research. I found this:
“A novella is a long short story or a short novel.”
That is the kind of thing that makes me want to start pulling my hair out.
Eventually, in time to save my sanity, I found something more specific:
“A novella is a text of written, fictional, narrative prose normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, somewhere between 17,500 and 40,000 words.”
On the tenth of February 2019 at 8:54 PM Eastern Standard Time, my manuscript is
I leave you to draw your own conclusions.
First, about the boyfriend. He actually was my high school boyfriend. Our subsequent relationship is to let twenty or so years go by until something puts us back in touch and we exchange a flurry of emails, have long phone conversations, and generally wonder why we let twenty years go by. As we are both now seventy-two years old, I have pointed out that we most likely don’t have another twenty-two going forward. For months we have had our usual talks that combine rehashing old memories with catching each other up on what we’ve been doing since we turned fifty–which was our last contact. We have exchanged photos of our grandchildren. I sent him a copy of a photograph of my father and the essay I wrote about it. He knew and liked Daddy. And somehow, I am sending him the current manuscript (still called The Wife) and he is reading it out loud to me over the phone. This week he was having some back pain and couldn’t sit for long, so he read two chapters and I began reading at Chapter Nineteen.
I hate Chapter Nineteen.
I’ve lost control. The Wife, which began as an attempt to write a short story, doesn’t show any signs of being a short story. It is fast approaching a length at which I can’t even call it a novella (a genre I’ve never really believed in, anyway). It seems to be nearly a hundred pages of a novel that is driven by two strong and fully developed main characters, and at least two others who have great potential. Nothing wrong with that. I like character-driven novels, and they are generally what I tend to write. So far, so good. Until I got to Chapter Nineteen that, now I consider it, is the point at which I attempted to let the plot carry me. The only problem is there doesn’t appear to be any plot.
But about Chapter Nineteen. It is dull. It is wooden. It goes into great detail about things like the hallway in a new school building. The dialogue is unconvincing. People don’t talk that way. What scant plot it manages is, not to put too fine a point on it, boring. As I read the chapter out loud to my high school boyfriend who appears to be enjoying watching my chaos at a safe distance (we have been at a safe distance since high school graduation in 1963), I was so appalled that I stopped at several places to exclaim some version of, “This is really terrible.” And so it is.
I believe this chapter, and possibly parts of a few others, can be salvaged. But it will not be an easy fix.
The alternative to fixing it is abandoning it, and I’m not ready to do that yet. So, instead of slipping away from Thanksgiving festivities to discover where Camilla and Martin will go from here, I will be avoiding for as long as possible facing the unwelcome task of a substantial rewrite of at least one chapter.
Maybe I’ll try designing the cover instead.