Poking around in the archive for my 1983 book review of The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death made me curious what else was in there. So, so much — I know. Dozens of letters of rejection to submissions I made to literary magazines, mostly in the 1990s. Dozens of short story drafts, fragments, half-starts, promising beginnings. Over 100 poems from my undergraduate years in the 1980s, early 1990s.
I’m going to post below three stories. Well, really two stories and an aborted beginning, a fragment that is interesting enough. I found all of them undated in the archive, but the two stories I remember faintly. I think they were written in the fall of 1989 in Ottawa because one references a trip to Ireland, and I made a trip to Ireland in August of that year. They may even have been written on that trip in a notebook and then typed and printed later that fall.
I would have said they were written before I knew how to write a story, but I also believe that storytelling is a basic human facility. We all tell stories, so we can all write stories. Writing for publication and negotiating the publication process is something else entirely. So I’m not surprised that these two early stories of mine have a simple naturalness that I lost later as I tried to be “arty” and “smarty.”
Negotiating the publication process is something that consumed a lot of my time in the 1990s. Even though I know how focused I was, back then, I was still surprised today to find such a thick file of rejection letters — and so many drafts of stories I’ve long forgotten. More surprising, I found many complete stories I had abandoned long ago as I sifted what I felt was the best to put forward for publication in Thirteen Shades of Black and White (1999). For which I received $500 as an advance — which I don’t believe paid out.
Mordecai Richler told a story about how his uncle asked him what he got paid for one of his early books, and when he heard the amount told the author he would have made more if he had spent the summer mowing lawns.
I’m going to begin with the fragment, which is called “Death, Love, and Other Life Risks.” I believe it was written about 2005 when I was going through a period of trying to write stories crammed into perspectives and positions that were odd, unique, pressure filled, and hopefully interesting. The fragment surely lives up to those expectations and leaves you wondering, What next? Me, too!
The two 1989 stories are called “Can’t Explain” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Why did I borrow titles from The Who and The Beatles? I don’t know. I can’t explain. I think it’s love… I think you’ll understand. The voice in these stories is surely influenced by Salinger, whom I had recently read that summer. I liked the cadences of his prose, and it’s something I wanted to find in mine. A linting music. A questing, questioning tone.
Not everything pleases me in these pieces. There’s some jarring notes, for sure. Rough songs from a forgotten — sometimes rightly forgettable — age.