I’ve never been a fan of short stories. My college creative writing professors made sure I read the most oddball, disgusting, bumpy penis riddled pieces of short fiction they could find. Therefore, I could only assume you had to be brimming with repressed or over expressed sexual issues to create acceptable short stories.
Fast forward ten or twelve years. Last night I finished reading Sherman Alexie’s War Dances. A collection of short stories. What possessed me to pick it up as I was drifting through the library with my daughter? The red running shoes on the cover for starters. Yes, sometimes I choose books like I select wine: a cool cover must mean it’s a good read. Second, Alexie is a fellow Coug. I’ve been hearing about his brilliance since I stepped onto WSU’s campus in 1997. However, I only knew him as a poet or an author of short stories. So not my things. But, those damn red running shoes drew me in, and next thing I knew, War Dances was in my bag.
Let’s just say Alexie grabbed me by the throat and didn’t let go until the last page. Yes, there are definitely some issues and angst, penis talk and the F-word. Somehow they didn’t offend me or seem gratuitous. Maybe my mind is a tad bit more open and less innocent than it was in those early college years.
I really related with the piece titled Fearful Symmetry. The man who lost his writing confidence because of the people who felt empowered to judge and shred his work could be me. People who didn’t understand where he came from. People he just needed to blow off so he could rediscover himself and grow once again. This spoke to my heart. This is where I come from.
Yesterday afternoon I checked out Joyland. This website calls itself “a hub for short fiction. I read a piece called Divestment that moved me to tears. I could actually see into my lost grandmother’s mind as she slowly lost her grasp on reality. The powerlessness to control her own world. We all thought she was just being stubborn. Divestment was raw and real, but mercifully clean. My mind was opened even more to the possibilities of short stories.
Aside from the craziness of the short story, I often felt they led nowhere, were incomplete. This past week’s reading made me realize I just hadn’t read any good ones yet.
Some passages seemed like paragraphs from my journal. The words seemed like a sweet release for the writer, and the cogs in my head began to turn in a new direction. Am I walking away from my novel? No way! However, I am excited to play with a new way to express myself. Every writer needs a wide variety of tools in their tool belt in order to hone their craft. I have an empty loop in which I will now hang short stories.