God, I love Kindle Select.
I know not everyone does. Barnes & Noble and IPG and the SFWA all have all used various methods–refusing distribution and bowing out of contract negotiations and, er, removing links to Amazon titles except where those titles are available only through Amazon, apparently, respectively–to express their distinct displeasure with Amazon and Kindle, but me, I’m a reader and a writer and a publisher and, to paraphrase a former colleague copywriting for one of the most famous advertising campaigns in history, I’m loving Amazon and Kindle Select.
But let’s focus on “For Cynthia” for the moment. When I was younger I always liked to read authors’ commentaries on their short stories, accounts of their geneses and executions. So here’s a bit about “For Cynthia.”
“For Cynthia” was the first successful short story I ever wrote. Well. Wait. “Successful” is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but I always was a novelist first. I know a lot of writers cut their teeth on short stories in their preparation for writing a novel. A common method is for writers to “practice” on short stories before they tackle the marathon that is writing a novel.
I read short stories, but I wanted to write a novel, and I set my sight on novels first. The first piece of writing I ever actually finished was a novel. It was a derivative novel that will never see the light of day without substantial revision I’m not sure I’ll ever undertake (there’s so much to write, after all), but it was my first. I was just beyond a freshman in college, well on my way to becoming sophomoric. And maybe it wasn’t great, and maybe nobody’ll ever see it, but I finished it. And maybe after learning a few things and with the benefit of knowledge I realize I didn’t really finish anything exactly great, but back when I was young and impressionable I thought it was extraordinary.
It was only after finishing that novel that I started to consider other forms. Like short stories.
I pared down first. I wrote a couple of novellas, and then had ideas for themed collections of short stories. I could only think of short stories as semi-related chapters of a greater whole.
“For Cynthia” was one of those. I had an idea for a series of stories whose only connection was an enchanted flower shop named Bloom. I’m glad to say I eventually thought better of that idea, though it creeped into other work; the gorgeous, red-haired tarot reader the narrator of Meets Girl evolved from the proprietress of that magical flower shop.
But one of those interrelated stories concerned forsythias, which I knew bloomed only briefly. I know I thought it originally had to do with a high-school romance, but that might be because I wasn’t yet very far beyond high-school romances myself, at the time. The story percolated in my head until I wrote a rough, raw draft of it shortly after I dated a girl nothing at all like Cynthia Barston at a time when I had a lot in common with the narrator of “For Cynthia,” and there I knew I had a story. It was both rough and raw, and in a very early draft Dylan’s father was that red-haired proprietress, but finally I got past the novelty and the idea and found the real story.
It took some refinement, and some polishing. It took revision in the real sense of the world; seeing it all over again, new and fresh and as something not first mine.
Finally, though, I found the essence. I stripped the gimmickry and novelty and focused on the beating heart of the story.
The happy ending? It’s not just the first short story I wrote with any success. It’s the short story that got me into USC. I submitted it to several magazines before I included it in the packet that became my application to the writing program I attended. Which means that without “For Cynthia,” neither Meets Girl nor The Prodigal Hour would exist as they do. To be candid, I don’t think it accomplishes as great an effect as either “Blues’n How to Play’em” or “Struck By The Light Of The Son,” but then again I don’t think it tried to, either. I think its ambitions might be more modest–or, more accurately, my ambitions didn’t know they could stretch farther.
But I know “For Cynthia” showed enough promise so as to get me into the program that changed me so much, and made me so much better, as a writer, and for that I am forever grateful. For that, this simple story will always mean something to me–for the memory it evokes, the feeling it effects, and the study it enabled.