My latest story, That Empty House, has just come out in The Fiddleback (Fiddleback.com). It's a tale of a boy delivering newspapers to a house inhabited by an agoraphobic woman (or he thinks she is in there.)
The fact that a boy is delivering the newspaper automatically dates this tale. Kids don't do that anymore, but back in the sixties (and before) it was one of the best sources of spending money available. As usual, I mix fact and fiction in this story, prompting my older brother to question a few things. Initially he said he didn't rememember this...or that...but now he seems to have found memories flooding back to the point where he has drawn a map of our Pennsylvania neighborhood from memory and had it confirmed, except for one street name, by Googlemaps. Not bad. He also recalled one deadbeat from whom it was difficult to collect payment. Having inherited the paper route from him, I knew the deadbeat he meant--in fact, that deadbeat initially gave me the idea for the story, which is where I began to fictionalize.
It's interesting to me that I recall so many things from fifty years ago but really couldn't tell you exactly how I went about developing this tale. I worked on it as I work on all my stories, drafting and revising, drafting and revising. At certain junctures I branch out or take risks or find myself offering metaphors that had never occurred to me before. But I do not recall the actual writing process, the sifting of words, the bursts of sentences, the doubts, the edits...anything. This doesn't bother me in the least, though I find it interesting. It suggests that a writer, me in this case, or some other kind of artist, vacates his own premises to get out of his own way to let a story or painting or composition express itself. When I write, I am not conscious of time passing, I am thinking backward and forward at the same time, and I often make key decisions when I've walked away from my desk and am swimming or out with the dogs or riding my bike. Then I come back and make changes.
Increasingly I would say that writing short stories is more like writing poetry than it is like writing a novel. In a short story you want to be as economical, vivid, precise and attentive to the way the prose sounds in your inner ear as possible. Anything that can be jettisoned should be jettisoned. Brevity is best. What you are aiming for, it seems to me, is an ending that states itself not on the page but in the reader's mind. He or she fills in the blanks, knows intuitively what the final gesture or words or image mean. So stories, like poems, are subtly but powerfully inconclusive by design, and they are susceptible to being experienced in a single concentrated sitting.
Causes Robert Earle Supports
World Wildlife Fund