Is anyone familiar with Lou Reed’s “Coney Island Baby”? I just love the way that song starts:
“You know, man, when I was a young man in high school
You believe it or not, I wanted to play football for the coach
And all those older guys
They said that he was mean and cruel, but you know
I wanted to play football for the coach
They said I was a little too light-weight to play linebacker
So I’m playing right-end
I wanted to play football for the coach”
Yes, Frank’s workshop was mean and cruel but his faint praise kept me going. Had he condemned the story, as he did with many others submitted for his consideration during the workshop, I probably would have never tried to write again. For almost two decades, that bit of praise was all I had to bolster my belief that I might actually amount to something as a writer.
Despite the rejections I’ve accumulated, in some weird psychological way, I always wanted to prove that his praise was not misplaced; I wanted to play football for him.
Needless to say, I’ve revised and re-written the story many many times over the intervening years but looking at it again today, I’m surprised by how many of the elements of that original draft remain in the story. Back in 1986, I was in the thrall of Bret Easton Ellis’s just-published LESS THAN ZERO, which I thought was “golden” or “gaga” or whatever silly expression I was using at the time to convey extreme like. So that draft (then called, “Summertime”) had that affected minimalism which was then in vogue. In its more recent drafts, I’ve added a layer of retrospection (à la Stuart Dybek) and substantially polished the prose.
So why am I mentioning this?
It’s been twenty-eight years… and… I’ve changed the title to “Somewhere Around Then”… and…
Well, the story has now been published in installments at Five Chapters. Here’s the first section. [And here's the second part, the third part, the fourth and the last part.]
Frank, wherever you are, thank you!
Errata #1: Can you believe it? According to the Amazon listings, FSG is publishing two different Stuart Dybek collections next month! ECSTATIC CAHOOTS (what a title!) will bring together fifty pieces of Dybek’s flash fiction, while PAPER LANTERNS will collect a number of his longer stories. This is surely going to be one of this year’s remarkable events in literary fiction.
Errata #2: Although I’ve published 30 or so short stories, I never really thought I had a “collection” in me. At times, I’ve assembled a few of them together and sent them off as a manuscript to various short fiction contests, but never did the stories mesh well to form a coherent collection. Individually, some might be good but, together, they’re a mish-mash of combating aesthetics and passing fancies.
I’ve been working on new stories over the last couple of months. I finished another one last week, and it finally occurred to me that, yes, maybe a few of them would work well as a distinct collection. Only time will tell, but I’m thinking of sending this collection out under the title THE FUTURE WAS OURS. Maybe… maybe… I can still play football for the coach.