Today’s guest blog post, on the topic of writing what you know, is brought to you by short story author and novelist Rita Plush, and first appeared on Books & Pals blog on 19th October 2013. I shall be reviewing Rita’s short story collection, Alterations, tomorrow.
Let’s say your first short story was turned down ninety-three times before a journal gave it a thumbs-up. And let’s say the other stories you labored over, the ones you fine-tuned and brought back to your writers’ group ad nauseam, were shown the door as well. Any normal person would think to try another line of work. But who’s talking normal? We’re talking writer here. A nutcase who stockpiled 74XL ink jet cartridges and reams of multipurpose office paper, only to tear the flap of an envelope and find a “try us again” form letter inside. What made me want to write when no one wanted to read my writing? I’m a writer damn it! I can write!
Was I out to prove that The Little Engine That Could chugged away inside me—The Little Engine that Could Not stop writing. I write therefore I am?
Perhaps I was lonely and didn’t know it, longing for a promise of closeness with imagined readers. Was real intimacy lacking in my life? Could there have been something I couldn’t get from the people I knew in the flesh, that I had to invent them? Or did I want to create worlds with words? A wizard who could dream up characters and make things happen to them—wonderful and terrible things that only I had the power to create?
They say write what you know, and maybe that’s where I went wrong.
What did I know about a mountain woman in a far-flung cabin in the woods? The very thought of a roughhewn log gives me a full-body rash. Get me some calamine lotion!
And that date-from-hell story. Last time I had a date I was eighteen, just me and a boy, one on one, out for a movie and something to eat, back in the day before mob-dating. What’s it called now? Oh, right, “hanging out”.
Maybe I should have been getting outmore instead of backsliding decades for my stories and making up half-truths.
Take that Brooklyn story about the mother who was a dressmaker. My mother was not a dressmaker, though I think I got the details down: the pin cushion bracelet, the mother on her knees taking up a customer’s hem. My father, in the needle trade for over sixty five years—that must be where the sewing bit came from—proud that my mother did not have to work because he was such a good provider—would be horrified, rest his soul, to learn that I’d given her a job of any kind.
And then there was the tale about the little girl whose mother died—the it-took-ninety-three-tries-before-a-journal-picked-it-up story. No wonder it took so long; my mother didn’t die when I was a little girl. And the mother’s friend who had varicose veins?—very close veins the child called it. Cute, but it never happened. Plus it was my mother who had those swollen, bluish, purpley veins bulging out her skin that I couldn’t bear to look at, not her friend.
Now I see now where I went wrong! I was writing make-believe stories I didn’t believe in, inventing characters instead of writing what I knew! A built-in pattern of failure, if ever there was one. But changes will be made! Attention will be paid! From now on I write only the truth. I’ll not only name the name, I’ll throw in place and time of day.
I’ll start with that juicy bit of gossip going around my neighborhood Selina down the block is getting it on with the UPS guy. And my sister… it’s high time Mom knew Selena spiked her Ensure and got her to sign over her house to Free a Felon dot org. My boss at my day job? He’s selling worthless Florida swampland to old folks in the Bronx. Where’s my whistle?
Ruin a marriage? Break a mother’s heart? Lose my job? What the hey! It’s what I know.
Thank you, Rita. I’ve killed a few characters and am pleased to say that’s not at all what I know.
Rita Plush is an author, teacher and lecturer on the decorative arts. She is the facilitator of the Self-published Authors’ Roundtable that meets every month at the Manhasset Library in Manhasset, LI. Rita presented her talk, “Writing & Publishing in the Modern Age, or So You’ve Written a Book; Now What?” at the Limmud Conference of Jewish Learning in February, 2014. She is a frequent guest blogger on Boomer Café, Best Chick Lit, Dames of Dialogue, and Women Fiction Writers.
The publication of her novel, Lily Steps Out (Penumbra 2012), was the subject of a feature article in Newsday’s Act II section in July, 2012 called, “Published & Proud”, followed by “Rita Steps Out”, in the Times Ledger, August, 2012.
Her short stories appeared in many literary journals including The Alaska Quarterly Review, The Iconoclast, The MacGuffin and Passager before they were included in the collection, Alterations (Penumbra 2013).
Alterations is a collection of short stories that shifts from a group of domestic talks starting with a young girl to five linked stories that conclude the volume. The stories which originally appeared in various literary magazines stand alone, but as a collection come full circle to examine a common theme—the aching need for family. Little girls and adolescents, a teenager, a father, a son, grown women—one takes revenge on the man who raped her teenage daughter—are altered by their circumstances as they make their way through life. Made up of characters of different backgrounds and mindsets, their livelihoods are as diverse as woodworking, the wholesale clothing business and the interior design industry, reflecting their various cultures, classes and ages.
Visit Rita on her website to learn more about her: http://www.ritaplush.com
- Lily Steps Out: www.amazon.com www.barnesandnoble.com
- Alterations: http://www.amazon.com/Alterations-Rita-Plush/dp/1938758153
I shall be reviewing Rita’s short story collection, Alterations, tomorrow.
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