For relative values of “new,” I suppose. The first draft was written in 2011.
“The Coffinmaker’s Love” had its start at Clarion West. It was the first story that I wrote there, on Week Two, with Nancy Kress instructing. Week One was Paul Park, and he helped us lay groundwork and ran us through exercises, but no all-out story.
Paul had us talk about our strengths as writers, and I said, “I write pretty.”
It’s true. I do.
So, for the first story to be dissected by my colleagues, I played to my strengths. I went for pretty. I’m good with mood and dialogue, so I used those, too. I decided that I wanted to see if I could play with voice, so I chose to go with a pseudo-Victorian archness just to see if I could sustain it.
The story was received well-enough. Nancy said something along the lines of it being “a nice fable,” but not having enough substance. Fair enough.
Later in the workshop, I often used the term bagatelle to describe some pieces (both some of mine and of my colleagues)–I didn’t use it pejoratively, but descriptively. There’s nothing wrong with–and there can be a good deal right with–a bit of fluff that brightens your day. Over time, I have come to embrace that. Confections are wonderful. It’s not the whole of my work, either, but it’s fun.
I don’t think that “The Coffinmaker’s Love” is a bagatelle. There’s too much bittersweetness there for it to be, and a purposeful undercurrent of dark and troublesome questions that only come up in the aftermath. It is, however, a locket story.
I came up with that description earlier this summer when the story was being edited and I had to describe the story and its scope to other people. What I mean by it is that it’s a small and fine work, with a small scope, intended to be pretty, containing something dear, and meant to be held near to one’s heart.
It’s not an epically ambitious story on existential themes like “Better the Night,” which I can’t seem to sell anywhere, or a softly important human story that gives people more room to find reflections of themselves like “Recognizing Gabe.”
Not everyone is going to find the contents of a locket story dear. But it should be clear that someone does, like stumbling over a small, wooden box full of love letters between strangers.
I’m very grateful to Beneath Ceaseless Skies for publishing the story. BCS editor-in-chief Scott Andrews was incredibly helpful and amazing; the story is many times better than it was because of his insight. Scott originally rejected the story, but allowed that he’d be happy to read a revision. Not being a complete idiot, I did indeed revise it. Fortunately, he eventually bought it.
In tweaking the darn thing, I had the particular help of two dear friends, Sarah Brandel and Tiffani Angus. They are both wonderful writers, and helped me make the story work.
This is my second professional sale, and it continues the worrisome pattern of selling stories to the first market I submit them to, or not at all. Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to sell at all. But I hope that pattern breaks soon. I really want “Better the Night” and “Dogsbody” and “What the Queen saw” out there. Well, there’s still a ton of markets, right? Next! And I’ve got this other story I’m working on…