A Call for Stories
Or scenes, if you dare...
First a story…
In 1992 Tom Spanbauer arranged for his workshop to give a public reading. This was a Friday night in a coffee house that had just opened, Common Grounds. The tricky part of any reading is deciding which students get to present work. Not everyone is ready. Workshop can give a false sense of security, and if a writer’s work is too personal, or too slow, or too long, in that direction lies disaster. Tom had the unenviable task of culling us. He did not choose me.
Regardless, it was fun to root for my friends. So many people attended, in fact, that the sole barista was swamped. Her job included making coffee, collecting dishes, and washing up. When she ran out of clean dishes, Tom and I grabbed trays and began to bus tables and to wash cups and plates. Personally, I’m better suited to food service than to reading aloud. On and off I’ve worked several dishwashing jobs, and that’s my forte. At the end of the evening the barista gave Tom and me the same Commons Grounds T-shirts worn by the regular staff as uniforms.
That said, I’m also better at listening than at speaking. Since I started this project in September I’ve always planned to solicit writing samples and to offer them here, as a way to praise what works and to address want might work better. The stumbling block was—as is often the case—legal issues. The screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker once told me, “In Hollywood you’re never more than fifty feet from someone’s spec screenplay.” Meaning, every chauffeur has a screenplay in his car’s trunk. Every food server has one stashed under the counter. Walker told me the history of the Buchwald v. Paramount lawsuit, and how no one would read scripts unless the author had signed off on massive legal liability waivers.
Far and wide, I was warned that if I read work I might be sued. How to work around that? Even in 1997 when the Fight Club movie was only a rumor, someone in Britain tried to sue me, claiming I’d lifted the entire story from his unpublished work in progress—in his brain. In 1997, my world was nothing but my job and the gym. Still, people will make accusations.
As a work-around, I’ll make the following proposal. Federal fair-use statutes will allow me to read and comment on work if it’s published. Think of this as a movie review, but done at a point when it’s still useful to the writer. I can praise what works, and put forward ideas for bettering “what I’d like to like more.” Please refer to the recent post for The Mercurian. No single story or book is a writer’s entire career. Your success depends on always innovating and experimenting. In effect, adopting and discarding ways of achieving your effects. A little praise or gentle coaching can go a long ways.
With that, I invite you to post a link to your work, below. I’m more likely to read work limited to twenty-five hundred words. That’s more-or-less ten double-spaced pages. That might be a story, a scene, or a chapter. Please limit yourself to a single line of “set-up,” that would be something akin to, “This is the lull between a discovery scene and a subsequent set-up,” or whatever would best describe the purpose or context of the passage.
I don’t promise to read all selections posted. But I do promise some praise and (I hope) useful advice for the selections I post here. I will ask your permission before addressing your work. I will only post a link, not the whole work. And I will get your okay whether or not to allow Comments. I am not acquiring any rights nor offering compensation beyond the best feedback I can give.
Think of this as a big, world-wide coffee house.
You see, it’s one thing for me to bang on about abstract concepts. Or to suggest reading books and stories. But workshop is really about applying these concepts to your work. It’s scary, putting your work out in front of people. And it takes some effort to post it somewhere and send a link. But that’s part of the job. As is filing your itemized taxes. As is getting a business license.1 Part and parcel. Get used to it.
I also promise to take down any post regarding your work if you so request. In the future I’ll refer people back to this post if they have work they’d like to submit.
That is my pledge. Are you game?
Yes, agony, even writers eventually need a business license and must pay the same fees and taxes as does any small business. So much for that artiste-in-a-garret ideal.