Even though I’ve submitted my thesis (and I defend in less than a month!), I still have two more to write for workshop–two more stories before I graduate. And as I’ve forced myself to write the first story, it’s never been more clear to me just what a luxury it is to be in an MFA program. Or to put it another way, what an amazing benefit it is to have to write even when I don’t feel the impulse. Because after finishing revisions on my thesis collection, all I really want to do is simultaneously not think about those stories and think of nothing else. Though I feel in many ways “done” with them, I still have hopes of publishing them individually in magazines and hopefully as a collection. And so in that way, they’re still with me, swimming around in my mind. I have submitted three of the five stories in my thesis to journals/magazines, but that only extends my time with them because now I have to wait the few months to hear how they’ve fared.
And so I’m working on a new piece, and I’m realizing that it might be the start of something much longer, a novella or novel even. And that’s both frustrating and exciting. It’s frustrating because I’d like to be able to workshop a complete story so that I can get the invaluable feedback on the ending, since I’ve only recently really been able to address my tendency to end my stories too early, relying on a false, safe ending. Also, feedback on an incomplete piece is harder for my workshop compatriots to give because every suggestion must always be prefaced with “Well, I don’t know where this is eventually going, but you could have this character do such and such.”
It’s exciting because before entering this program, I couldn’t conceive of how I could ever write something longer than seventeen pages. Since then, I’ve been consistently writing stories well over twenty pages and one in my collection is a solid thirty. And now I think I could write a novella, or maybe even a novel. Which is a good thing since apparently publishers aren’t interested in short story collections. They want novels because people don’t want to read short stories outside of workshops or literary journals/magazines. In fact, I keep hearing the same story of different people whose agents said, “I like your short story collection, but do you have a novel?” or who finally got their collection into an editor at a publishing house who said the same thing.
One last thing about the new piece I’m working on (“Life in a Postcard”): It’s set in Florence, Italy, which means that if I do continue working on it as a novella/novel, I just might have to go to Italy for research 🙂
(Oh, and I’ve finished One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, and it was wonderful. I’d recommend as a quick, informative read, especially to those in my generation who don’t know much about the Soviet work camps and the Soviets in general.)