A writer argues with himself as he tries to compose a short story about writing a short story.
Published in Soundings East (Salem, MA. Volume 30/Number 1: Spring/Summer 2008).
What’s it about?
It’s about this. This moment—my writing. Or your reading.
Well, it can’t be about both, can it?
Why not? For that matter, it might also be about the speaker reading it aloud.
Me perhaps. Or maybe someone on Audiobooks.
Oh, c’mon—this isn’t going to get published on Audiobooks!
And do you think this is interesting?
Who wants to know?
And who are you?
Me, of course.
You mean the guy writing this short story?
I suppose—but how can a short story be about writing the short story?
Not only can a short story be about writing the short story—the very short story that’s being read—aloud or silently—by me or you or who knows who—but such a question is downright commonplace nowadays. It’s all been done before! It’s everywhere we go! Like last week—I went to see this new musical at the Vineyard Theatre in Manhattan. It was called [title of show]. Now if this is being read to you—or if you’re listening to it on Audiobooks (hope springing eternal)—I better explain that the title of this show was “bracket, lower case, ‘title of,’ lower case, ‘show,’ end bracket.”
Try marketing that!
Well, apparently it’s quite the success.
And what’s it about?
It’s about writing the very musical the audience is watching, starring the very people who are creating it as they go along. But, of course they can’t really be creating it as they go along, because it’s been performed numerous times by now.
So it’s not really about what it claims to be about—it’s just a bit of artifice.
Yes, exactly! As is this—or any—short story.
But that sounds dry—as dry as this story is turning out to be.
But it wasn’t dry; it was incredibly entertaining.
So, then, what you’re writing is a review, not a short story, right?
God, I hope not! Reviews get tucked away in the back of magazines, not placed up front with the other stories. Like the time I wrote an article about Hegel and heroism—or the lack thereof—in the modern age and used the movie Dog Day Afternoon as an example. I was a philosophy professor back then, so I sent the article to an academic journal. They accepted it, and I proudly added it to my growing list of publications—back when it would have helped make my case for tenure. You can still see it listed on my Web site: www.williamfowkes.com.
But can you put a Web site right into the middle of a short story?
I just did.
But what if somebody comes across this story years from now and tries to go to the Web site and there’s nothing there?
Then maybe I better endow the site.
Can you do that? Might get expensive.
Let my estate worry about that!
Might not have much of an estate.
For that matter, the whole planet might blow up by then—so who cares? Or maybe once you write a short story, it becomes eternal—like a Platonic Idea—condemned to permanent existence on some other plane. I hope they understand English there.
But what about Al Pacino?
What about him?
He was in Dog Day Afternoon.
Yes, back to my story. You see—that question was a bit of artifice, too.
You mean I didn’t ask it freely?
No, it was just a clever device to bring us back to where I wanted us to go.
Oh, brother! Does this stuff pass for literature these days? You don’t have to answer that, Mr. Fowkes—I can just imagine the reviews!
Which brings us back to my point. When the journal with my article about heroism finally came out, I was devastated to discover that they considered it a movie review and stuck it in the back with the other reviews. So, no—I hope to God this isn’t a review! As does the main character of this story.
Oh, so there is a main character?
Yes, of course there is—and we hate critics!
END OF EXCERPT