Every story has a story. As writers, we know that stories take on a life of their own, but once the writer completes the story and begins shipping it out to publishers, the story begins a journey that’s all its own. And although the experiences are unique to the writer, I believe most writers will find a lot of similarities to certain aspects. For the next few entries, I’m going to talk about the stories I’ve published.
Billyball: Home Sweet Home
I actually wrote this story as part of a writing workshop at the library in Somerset when I was in high school. I was too young for the adult workshop, and really felt old for the kid workshop, but I knew I wanted to be a writer and stuck it out anyway. Karen Koger was on a fellowship from the state of Kentucky and was teaching the class. Years later I picked up her collection of short stories at a store and was glad to read her work.
It was the summer I turned fifteen and I remember sitting on the beach in Clearwater, Florida while on vacation and trying to think about my story. I tried to capture the beach scene, but my heart was back home, so the story developed about a man giving up a baseball career to come home and care for the family.
The story was a hit with the kids in the workshop, but it was still lacking. I filed it away until in college when I used it for a writer’s workshop class, where it was critiqued. It was pretty much ripped apart by the adults in the class. In my mind there were two keys things wrong with the story.
First of all, I had only just begun my formal writing training. I hadn’t taken a literature class that actually made sense. This was my first fiction writing class. Of course, I didn’t have all of this symbolism in the story. I barely knew what symbolism was, much less how to use it effectively in fiction. On a side note, the seriousness of that workshop led me to write Parlor of Mistaken Identities, which was categorized by the teacher as being absurd. I just wanted to see if the arrogant students could pull something fancy out of a slapstick story. They couldn’t find anything of literary worth in it, so I guess I succeeded in my attempt. But I did get a nice compliment in the fact that the story kept them laughing throughout, which isn’t easy to do. So, I guess I actually accomplished both goals.
The second reason why the story failed was the stakes. For one, the climate of baseball changed between the mid-80’s when I originally wrote the story and the early 90’s when the story was work-shopped. Players were making a lot more money and the decision of staying in baseball or going home to save the farm wasn’t really a choice. Baseball was paying so much that Billy, the main character, could have played and saved the farm. I also didn’t pull out that connection between Billy and the land he grew up on. It worked for Margaret Mitchell, but not for me at that point in life.
So, the story went through the revision process, with updates to the 90’s and the second critique was done by the professor who thought the story came off well. I sent it in for publication in our school literary magazine and it was selected for publication. It only received an honorable mention in the short story contest. That kind of aggravated me, because here I was with the dream of being a writer and I couldn’t even place in my college writing contest. But now I see it as a stepping stone. I learned so much from that point to the end of my degree and the learning hasn’t stopped.