That Break was to Write Fiction

11 Aug

By Lanny Morgnanesi

Of late, I’m not much of a blogger. Instead of writing non-fiction here, I’ve been writing fiction and trying – and failing – to sell it. Short stories are sent to small literary magazines with small readerships and small reputations. The magazines routinely reject them. I don’t know if it’s them or me. It’s probably both.

            As a life-long journalist, fiction is liberating because you make things up. Journalists interview people and hope they will say something interesting, funny or poignant. Often, they don’t. A reporter might have to work a source for quite some time to get a quote of even moderate worth. With fiction, if you want or need a specific thing, you decide what it is and write it. And you pray it is as clever as you intended it to be.

            What I like most about writing fiction is the departure from reality. You sit there without moving and travel somewhere. You become people unlike yourself, or maybe too much like yourself. You contrive plots and scenes. On good days a magical force takes over and writes the story for you. I once began a piece about a television set and ended up with a tale of a rich woman compromised by guilt and pursued by man who wants  her secrets. (Somehow the TV stayed in.) It’s almost like Mohamed getting the Koran from God, or when Bob Dylan is asked about his songs from the 60s and says, “I don’t know who wrote that.”

            When I finish, I like almost everything I’ve written. Naturally, I get this wild idea that others – editors of literary magazine – also will like it. Alas, they don’t. Or, if I’m being kind to myself, they like something else better. When an editor won’t accept you, you look for positive feedback from friends. Generally, these are people who are busy and don’t have the time or inclination to read your work and comment on it. When they do read it, you pray for a surprising and spontaneous, “Hey, that’s pretty good.” With me, that never comes. Most act overly cautious. Some will praise the work in even, sober tones, and that is satisfying, but it’s disappointing. After a few days, you get the idea they were just being kind. And through all this, you still like and treasure what you wrote. You persist in thinking its high merit is being overlooked.

            A slight irritation comes when a casual, good-natured reader misses something well-calculated and ultra-literary. In a story about two people who, over the course of years, spend only short but critical moments together, the woman has a job selling time shares. Get it? No, you don’t. Is that your fault or mine? In another story, a nun gets free heating oil for poor people. It’s subtle and not outwardly explained, but to do so she uses Mafia tactics picked up from her father. Too subtle? I wish I knew.

             Online writer communities exist, and writers will critique each other. Unfortunately, I feel a good number of these writer/critics are young and unexperienced and don’t dig in like I wish they would or could. Speaking of young, while my stories vary in content, I worry my mature age injects them with oldness and nostalgia. Young editors cannot make a connection or see value (although they don’t have a problem with Faulkner). In a story about a tragic character who mocks his own victimhood, I mentioned his wife forcing him to see Wayne Newton in Vegas instead of Sinatra. Not exactly up to date, eh?

            While I love making things up completely – one story is about a troubled America and its use of four-star concentration camps during the second coming of Christ – I tend to write about what I know, like how Atlantic City has changed since the opening of its first casino, as told through the eyes of a cocktail waitress who began work in 1978 and never left. I’ve also  written about China in 1985 (I lived there then), and a friendship between a landscaper and a bestselling author who lived in my town during the 50s and 60s. Pretty dog-eared. Still, there is a story about an intelligent robot struggling to understand irony, one on little leaguers writing a comedy sketch before practice, and a 16-year-old junkie who finds (steals) the money for his MBA. I haven’t completely abandoned freshness.

            Regardless, none of  it (with two small exceptions, including the robot) gets published.

            I’m at the point now where I may start putting some of the shorter pieces on this blog, to give them the light of day and to see what happens. Let me think about it.

4 Responses to “That Break was to Write Fiction”

  1. Stuart Danker August 11, 2021 at 8:08 pm #

    I too have had experience with both journalism and fiction, and definitely prefer the latter when it comes to crafting without limits. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Like

  2. daniel a scully August 12, 2021 at 8:04 am #

    get it out there Lan. It would be a pleasure to read. i still remember parts of your tale of dirity dingas magee

    Like

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