Charles May, who has taught and written about the short story for over forty years, has finally (gasp!) published his first short story.
I begin this entry with the preceding sentence—which expresses the humility and pride I feel about this little addition to my resume-- because if this blog entry ever pops up as the result of a Google search, it is the sentence that will appear. The story is available at:
Click on the summer issue icon and scroll down to my story "This is Me" and click it.
I have debated over the past two months since the story appeared whether I should devote a blog entry to this. On the one hand, it seems a little too self-serving. On the other hand, to fail to talk a bit about it seems chickenshit. I mean I have criticized so many short-story writers over the years, I should give readers to take a shot at me.
Like most teachers of English, I always wanted to write. You know the old saying—those that can do; those that can’t teach. I began writing stories when I was a kid growing up in the mountain of eastern Ky. I published them in a little broadsheet that I laboriously printed out by hand in multiple copies and “sold” to my family. In high school and college, I wrote stories and published them in newspapers, for which I was editor or feature editor.
When I was a senior in high school in Paintsville, Ky, I received a modest scholarship to attend a writer’s workshop held on the campus of Morehead State University, where I had been accepted as a freshman and got a job running a printing press. The professor who ran the workshop and gave me the scholarship was Albert Stewart, a, diminutive man who wrote poetry and was one of the Appalachian Mountain’s most energetic promoters of writers.
At the workshop, for the first time in my life, I met real, honest-to-god writers, such as Jane Mayhall and Robert Hazel, and literary agents and other aspiring wannabes like myself. It was exhilarating for a country boy who loved to read and wanted to be a writer. I think I was probably the youngest one there.
At the end of the workshop, the faculty got together and named who they thought to be the most promising writer at the workshop. I and a man from Florida, whose name I cannot recall and have never seen since, were named the winners. Oh, my friends, it was heady.
During the time I was an undergraduate at Morehead, I took classes from Al Stewart and Jim Still, the most respected writer in Eastern Kentucky, after the less-talented Jessie Stuart, that is. He introduced me to Turgenev and Chekhov and read his stories to us and talked about them. I once visited him at the Hindman Settlement School, where he was librarian, and he showed me files and files of work in progress, and I was definitely hooked. I was going to be a writer.
Then I got a fellowship to do graduate work at Ohio University, and I threw myself into that and put my desire to write fiction aside. I got my Ph.D. in three years and took a job at California State University, Long Beach. So there I was, six years out of high school, and determined to climb the tenure track ladder to provide for my family and become a professor.
In the forty years I was at Long Beach, I wrote some fiction, kept notebooks, tinkered with some drafts, but never really finished anything and never sent anything out. I was succeeding, after a fashion, writing critical articles and books on the short story, and was too chicken to send anything out that pretended to be a short story.
Finally, when I retired, I took some stuff I had saved over the years on my hard drive and started working with it. One piece, which derived from my experience of sitting in an ER waiting room for two weeks in Kentucky while my mother died, seemed to have enough detail, enough thematic significance, enough engaged point of view, that it might actually be a story. So I polished it and sent it out to a journal I had published in before: an interview with Ky writer Chris Offutt and a tribute on the death of Jim Still—Appalachian Heritage, pubished at Berea College in Kentucky. A few weeks later, the editor wrote me to say he was going to publish it in the summer 2009 issue. It is entitled “This is Me,” and women forgive me for appropriation, it is from the point of view of a female.
Those of you who have published fiction know this feeling, but it was a first for me. An editor of a periodical had read something I had written and pronounced it a story. If he thought it was a story, and he was supposed to know such things, then, By God, it must be a story.
So I have some modicum of confidence now. I have tentatively been anointed a short-story writer. The confidence that Al Stewart and Jim Still showed in me almost fifty years ago—that I had promise—might possibly be affirmed. I am writing fiction. At least I think so. I am not sure. One story is not sufficient to overcome a half-century of reticence and cowardice.