Paperback Writer or Twnolf: It’s Me, Phil!

00:00 April 11, 2011
By: Phil LaMancusa

Okay, this is me getting bigger for my britches, and who could blame me?

This is me, celebrating my tenth year with the illustrious Where Y’at Magazine, a few hundred, thousand word, essays and blogs and not being satisfied with that, I’m charging ahead with writing short stories.

As a novice, self taught, short story writer, I’ve had my share of trials and tribs; let’s face it, at a certain age; going to school or classes is naught but an interruption from the basic needs for supplying oneself with food clothing and shelter. And because at this age a certain misplaced pride sets in that says that anything that you can learn from someone else you can certainly teach yourself, you’re satisfied with that. This is categorically not true; however, name me someone has not fallen prey to this deception.

My first rejection as a writer was from The New Yorker; you cannot consider yourself a real writer until The New Yorker has rejected you. Consider it your rite of passage and once you get one, frame it. The next thing that will make you a ‘real writer’ is getting paid for something that you’ve written or in my case something that you haven’t written; I was once given a buck to get off the computer at the library, so technically I am qualified in that department.

The next requirement to being a writer is to be published and as you know by reading this you give credence to me being a published person. BUT, as Louie says at Matassa’s Grocery Store about the New York Times: “It may be all the news that’s fit to print, but is it fit to read?” Well after ten years at Where Y’at there’s been some high points and some not so high, however, I’ve been rejected, I’ve been published and I get paid. So there. Now I’m ready to stretch my wings and go for a bigger enchilada.

My first short story rejecter told me that I had too many characters in my story, notwithstanding that it was a poignant coming of (my) age account that, yes, had a damn lot of characters: namely members of my immediate family. My next rejection came with a note saying that my format was one that had been abandoned, whatever that means. My next was a rejection with no reason, only the now used to “despite its obvious merit” crap; If you’re a writer, you get used to that so-called ‘soft landing’.

Then last year at a Tennessee Williams Festival panels on short story writing it became clearer: 18 pages, double spaced, Times New Roman with no more than four characters, protagonists or points of reference, “unless you’re Shakespeare or the Bible” (their quote, not mine). You see, if you have more than four subjects, they said, your readers will not be able to keep your story straight. I guess they think we’re not up to snuff in the reading-with- intelligence- and-retention-of- information department. Duh.

My next submission was to the Tennessee Williams Festival itself. The story of a disoriented young soldier back from WWI to his southern small home town where he pigments his skin to get a job as a Negro cook in a whorehouse and falls in love with one of the servants who is African American. It has a kindly sheriff and a motherly Madame and it should have been a shoe in. It was called Strawberry Nest.

It’s two weeks before the Festival and I’ve received no word. Zero. Zip. Zilch. Am I a winner? Am I a loser? Who knows.

Am I deterred? Disillusioned, disheartened, distraught or dismayed? No. I’ve already started on my next short story about a cast of characters (including a hunchback) that plan abduction, robbery and doublecross at the Tennessee Williams Fest itself! I’ve named it ‘Casual Encounters’.

They all have assumed names, they all have specific qualities, they’re all smart, saucy and sexy. There is a division of sexes and an amount of dynamic tension. It involves the stealing of an electronic reading device that doesn’t exist and kidnapping a professor who is really not a professor but one of the gang and getting paid by the winning Louisiana lottery jackpot which is controlled by the Chinese (of course) and the attempted outfoxing by the CIA and the setting of a fire in the kitchen of a famous New Orleans restaurant where the festival is being held and escaping in the end with a butt load of money. Or not. There are women in tight clothing, men with powerful weapons and vice versa. There is adventure, mystery, excitement and menus supplied by the author and a Costa Rican catering company Los Tres Bastardos Grasientos (The Three Greasy Bastards). Who knows, it may just be based on a true story?

To make sure that I don’t lose any of this story, I put it piece by piece on my blog and backed it up on a zip drive just in time for my computer to have a friggin’ coronary. Let that be a lesson to you up and coming writers. I learned that on a Sex And The City episode; Carrie Bradshaw lost her material and did not have it backed up and, Lord, was it a mess! She almost cried.

Which brings me to this question: how come, no matter how much Sex the girls were getting in The City, Carrie was the only one who never was seen with her clothes off?

Anyhoot, back on the subject of short story writing. It’s fun. It’s a chore. It’s not as easy as pounding out a thousand words at a sitting (I’m up to twenty thousand on this one), but you get to experience what it’s like to be an exhausted writer. It’s true, you don’t know what your characters are going to do once you breathe life into them. Sometimes you don’t know what they’re going to say until it’s on the page in front of you and sometimes there’s a knock at the door where a completely new character wants in. It’s like art. It’s a reason to keep going back to the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival this year March 23rd -27th. You might see the deal go down or get to listen to my acceptance speech.

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