Monday, March 19, 2012

One Proser's Treasure...

We've been winnowing at Flash Fiction Online, which basically means we read the best stories of the initial slush round, and select the final few that will receive that awesome "Yes!" that we are all waiting for.

There's a story in this round that I love. I LOVE it. It's the kind of story that I wish that I had written, but I'm just glad that someone did. It's beautiful, and haunting, and clever.

Sadly, most everyone else on staff gives it a "meh." A meh. This brilliant beautiful story brings the consensus of staffers to a "Meh, not so much." feeling.


It's okay, really, in the long run, to write a story that most people say meh to, and a few people love. It's part of what makes writing a risk, and what makes writing so addicting. It's like gambling. You can do your very best work, stand back and say, "This is the best that I can do." and people will still not care.

 But that doesn't mean the story isn't amazing, or brilliant, or extra special. It just means it hasn't found it's right audience.

I take a lot of comfort in that.

If it had this cover,
I might not have picked it up.
When I was about fourteen, I picked up this hardbound book without a cover, for 25 cents at my local DI. The Obnoxious Jerks by Stephen Manes. It's about this group of smart funny teenage boys, and this shy, teased young actress, Leslie Freeze, who tries to join into the group. She is ignored, belittled, accepted, respected, admired, flirted with, and then fought over.

 I loved that book. I must have read it more than a hundred times. I read it in Junior High, while people where drinking and doing drugs and having sex, and I was too shy to even hold a boy's hand. I escaped into it in High School, when I didn't get a part I wanted, or some dumb boy didn't like me, or when I thought my mom liked my sister better. I read it in College, when my friends were drinking and partying, or cheating on their wives, and yet another dumb boy didn't like me.

 My copy became waterlogged, dog-eared, and stained with chocolate ice cream. I read it so often that I still have scenes memorized. Every time I read it, no matter where I was, in my mind, I was fourteen, high up in the branches of my reading tree, above my loneliness, or heartbreak, or anger.

My much read copy was thrown away one weekend when I accidentally left it when I came home to do laundry. I don't blame my mom, it looked like garbage. I've bought another copy since, but it isn't the same.

Now objectively, I can see that this book isn't all that special. It didn't have a huge print run. It never received any awards, and it's currently out of print. But that doesn't mean it didn't save my life. That doesn't mean that it isn't SO special and important, even if it's only special to me.

That book is why I write.

I know my book isn't ever going to be perfect. I know it might never be picked up by a legacy publisher. But one day, some young kid will pick it up from the bottom of a 25 cents bin, or pick it up for 99 cents through Amazon, and they will read it, and love it until its pages are waterlogged and dog-eared, or until the digital copy has been read so often it becomes damaged.

Because even if a hundred people hate it, or criticize it, or even just don't care about it, one person might just love it.

And I'm writing this book, for her.


  1. Awesome post, Sheena!

    This is exactly why I believe in writing the stories in your heart. I'm always wary about trying to write the market or altering the story to give it a more general appeal. You might just lose the one thing that makes your story special, even if it is only special for a limited audience.

    Obnoxious Jerks looks hillarious. So reminiscent of the cheesy covers I remember finding in the library when I was young. :)

  2. You are just amazing! What a beuatifully written Blog. I love Mondays just for the fact that I get to read something else you have written.

    1. Thanks, Nanabuns.

      Oh, that nickname looks hilarious when written in public. :)

  3. Is this the house one? (I won't say more than that.) :)

    You know, you should make noise about it on the voting thread. You might sway our editor one way, or maybe remind a certain someone who meant to put it as a 'weak accept' on their list and then forgot. Convince us of why you love it, and maybe some will change their minds. It doesn't always work, but it's worth a try, I promise. You'll at least get me on your side, if nothing else, since I'm leaning toward liking the story anyway. :)

    Which, in my opinion, is the way it should be for books and movies and everything you love. That's why I love to talk with people about such things; sometimes, I can catch some fantastic nuances that I missed the first time around, or understand the appeal even if I don't myself share it. And on the other side, if I'm easily swayed out of liking a book or movie, well, that's sort of a lesson in itself.

  4. Excellent post. I've been slowly buying back some of my favorite books, to share with the kids, but mostly for me. I so understand the magic of having the book mean something to the 'one.'

  5. Right now I'm re-reading my ancient copy of "Janice" by Maysie Greig. I loved this book the first time I read it as a kid and I love it now, too, even though I'm sure I relate to it much differently now. The writing breaks all the "rules" writers learn about these days and yet it's charming and sweet and hard to put down. I looked up this author on Amazon to see what else she'd written, and they are all out of print. She wrote 220 novels (yes, I said 220) and not one is still in print. But in all the times I've moved and cleaned house and made room on my shelf, I've never been able to part with this book. Almost every time I turn a brittle, yellowed page, it rips a little at the bottom and breaks my heart.

    Beautiful post, Sheena.

  6. I think my post this week might be about my efforts to get Earth's Gate ready to be published electronically. I still love the story, but a few elements in it make me cringe (Sheena and Sabrina read it in its early stages, so you might recall what I'm talking about) Sheena, your post is a great reminder that if those things were important to me back then, they might be important to someone else now.

    The books by Sally Watson filled a similar need for me. My favorite one was "Lark." Besides, it's a lot of fun to have a favorite book no one else has heard of.

  7. Nice post. I can relate to your meh vs. awesome dichotomy. I'm beginning to see some of that as a slush reader for Triangulation. I've been trying to find a home for what I consider to be my best short work, but as you pointed out, writing (and reading) is about as subjective as any field can get.

    Good luck with your book!

  8. Funny. I'm the guy who wrote that book, along with more than 30 others, including a new one about ballet that at 900+ pages is the opposite of flash fiction (you can check it out at And as coincidence would have it, The Obnoxious Jerks is set to return to "print" as an e-book in a week or two.

    You're right. It never did win any awards. But it did rack up some good reviews, and for a time it was under option for a Hollywood movie that never got made. (The one person I knew who claimed to have seen the script--of course, they would never think of letting me take a whack at it--said it was truly ghastly.)

    Like several of my other books, this one seems to have attracted something of an underground following, which was almost impossible for an author to find out about before the advent of the Web and the Google Vanity Search. It's gratifying to know that you've written something that's touched someone else, particularly when you're not the bestseller type.

    This book is one of the few I've written that has elements of autobiography. In my formative years, a bunch of us high-school misfits put together a club called The Lancers. Its logo was a steel pen, its motto "The pen is mightier." But though we did manage to pull a few authority-tweaking pranks, we were neither smart nor secure enough to invite girls into our ranks.

    Thank you for putting fingers to keys so that your very moving words could appear on the screen. And rest assured that the e-book will have a much better cover than the awful one you displayed or the only marginally better one the publisher stuck onto the paperback.


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