Merrilyn With A Dandelion In Her Mouth, from In A Lonely Place

January 1997


Tampering With The Endings

How can stories be "published", yet perennially under construction?

It's another marvel of the Internet. I see these stories less like a book, which is frozen in print forever, than a song. A pop star might record a song one way, yet play it differently the next day, or entirely re-interpret it twenty years later.

When is a Web story finished? On the day you read it, it's finished for that day. Another day it may be finished entirely differently.

Right now, for example, the perennially troublesome Charlotte's Mirror is undergoing its umpteenth revision. It's never worked as a tragedy, so I'm going to try to make it work as a comedy. Besides, there are just too many depressing stories on this site, I think: Blue Flower is only the latest, and that's an ending I'd also like to change.

In A Lonely Place also seems not quite right. The ending seems to be too easy: there's no twist. One reader said it seemed like I'd read too many bad New Yorker stories. I haven't read ANY New Yorker stories at all, but the idea that my stories sound like they belong in the most self-satisfied of print coffins frightens me thoroughly.

Tom Standage, a British journalist, asked me this month if I wasn't concerned that by using reader input to help develop the stories, the balance between writer and reader would tip too far towards the reader, that I'd end up writing for the galleries.

I don't think so. My site something I do because I have something to say and want people to hear it. If they're not hearing it - say, if the opening grafs of the story turn them off so badly that they don't read any further - that's something I can fix, with their help.

Changing the heart of the story is a different matter. If I were interested in writing just what people wanted to read, I'd be happily turning out lucrative print fiction, and perhaps would have never ventured onto the web at all.

Special Feature! One Month Only: My First Published Story

I told Tom, and I've told others, that I consider these stories published when they appear on the Web. They don't need to appear in a paper format to be legitimately put before readers.

However, I have had stories published in the conventional dead-tree manner. The first one, Say Goodbye To The Sea, ran in the Rhode Island magazine "Radio Void" in 1990, when I was twenty-two years old.

For the month of January only, Say Goodbye To The Sea will be available on the site. It has a little of the humor I'd like to recapture in my current writing.