That One Story
It remains like a splinter under my thumb, too deep to pick out. That one story. Not a great story -- a great story is like a shotgun blast, hitting my brain and my heart at the same instant. Sentence fragments, like tiny lead pellets, lodge in my internal organs. One day the coroner will make careful note of them in his own dispassionate words. Until then, the great stories are vital to my life. But will that nagging splinter be revealed?
I don’t read to escape, I read to relate. I read for that aha moment that comes through connection with someone or something. I read, looking for intimacy with a total stranger. Did we meet in another life? To read a great story is to hold a warm and beating heart in my hands, if only for a sentence. At different times in my life, different authors have touched a nerve. Some inspired, some enlightened, some made me laugh, and some shattered my expectations. Short stories, I find, are often the most intense.
When I was a young woman, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” caught me unawares, made me think, made me tremble. Flannery’s fiction has remained lodged in my psyche all these years, and now I realize I am the grandmother, and the story means something more, or something different, than it did the last time I read it. Or the first time. Flannery O’Connor’s story is more like a splinter than a shotgun blast, but it has stayed with me all these years, worrying me now and then. I can still feel the point deep under my thumb, next to the bone.
Speaking of "navigation," I have literally experienced that metaphor, crossing an expanse of ocean in a 36' sailboat with my husband in 2000. During the passage I read stories including Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro), Two Years Before the Mast (Richard Henry Dana, Jr.) and Ship of Fools (Katherine Anne Porter). While aboard, I wrote my own stories too; several of them were published as personal experience articles. One story I scribbled while underway became a novella, Water Ghosts (Old Salt Press, 2015). The idea for my first published novel, Star-Crossed (Knopf, 2006) came to me on a night watch while at the helm of a much larger sailing ship, HM Bark Endeavour, a circumnavigating replica of Capt. James Cook's 18th century vessel, on a crossing from Vancouver to Hawaii in 1999.