I sent the following to a Sewanee writing buddy who was kind enough to read and comment on the draft of a story.
You requested some response to your comments. What follows may be more than you wanted, but since you asked . . .
The most telling of your remarks referred to missing energy and the matter of heart, but before I get to those–I’ve been trying to find a short story voice, have been experimenting with the episodic, ellipses-like style of such as Jeannette Winterson, Lily Tuck, Diane Schutt. Undoubtedly, I’ve not chosen the right episodes or linked them poorly so that the stories come out disjointed and mystifying. I’ve written three now that have come out with roughly the same problems as the Bolivia and Dentist. Before that, I produced one that was much more successful. I’m shopping it around to print journals and getting some nibbles, though no bites yet. Seems I’ve regressed rather than progressed since that one.
I’m not sure what’s the source of my loser protagonists. I intend to create flawed creatures, but apparently I’m creating pitiable ones that aren’t even all that interesting. Bad doesn’t matter, I think. Boring does. May be some deeper psychological explanation that it would be better to leave unexplored. Anyhow, between the incomprehensible action and the weak protagonists, we’re left with not much of a story. I’m not quite sure what to do about these three. Whether It’s best to shred and move on or to lay aside and return later, I don’t know. Certainly they need reimagining in the entire if they’re to ever work. However it turns out, you’ve been invaluable in diverting me from a wrong road.
The larger issues you mentioned, though, may be the real source of the problem. In my Sewanee packet I submitted a group of five flash-fiction pieces, each 500 words or less. One of them had been published on line and–in a unique format–on a coffee mug. It was a lot of fun sending the mug around for gifts, etc. We writers can’t do that the way painters can. The other four are supposed to come out in the same format this year if the proprietor gets his act together–a circumstance that seems unlikely at this point. The stories are structured pretty much like the one I sent you after I received your comments on James–A narrator relating to the audience a story told by Millard. Barry didn’t care too much for the way the stories were set up–said they were anecdotes that lacked story–but said that my authentic voice lay therein, the voice I should be working with to the exclusion of whatever I was doing with the Bolivia story. Between what he said and what you said I’m thinking that’s the direction I need to go. It wasn’t so much that my heart wasn’t in writing the other stories. Disappointed as I’ve been in the result, I did get involved in them, enjoyed creating them. However, I was undeniably working more from the head than the gut. Another contributing factor may be that I’m simply not a short story writer. I love the short-short fiction. I think my novel is good. Others agree, despite the lack of agent/publisher acceptance yet. I am full of energy as I begin the sequel. But I have trouble with that 3000-10, 000 word length for some reason. Well, Ray Carver could never write a novel either, eh? Nor Alice Munro, apparently.
In the end, I guess, the answer lies in continuing to read, write, get comments, then write some more. I’ve tried to stop writing in the past. It’s easier to give up bourbon–and that’s saying something for me. So I’ll just keep on till I can’t no more.