In our Debut Author Spotlight series, authors contribute essays about the path to the publication of their first book. In this installment, Glori Simmons talks about writing the stories that would comprise her first two collections. She, at first, thought of them as one book and she began to write them as a distraction from the novel that she was working on during her Stegner Fellowship in 2003. Glori Simmons’ collection Carry You came out from Autumn House Press on March 7.
“Three presidents later, American troops are still in Iraq and what I began as a side project was now two full-length books informed by parenthood, marriage, work and time. Life had happened and through it all, my writing had evolved.”
People may see that I have had two books of short stories published in consecutive years and think I’m a prolific or fast writer. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I began the first three linked stories that would become Suffering Fools and Carry You around 2003. I was a Stegner fellow working fulltime in a University art gallery. The U.S. was at war. The short stories were a distraction from the novel I was supposed to be writing, an exercise in form, one story unfolding from another, all set in the present. They were organic, gratifying and fun to write, but I was working on a novel set in another place and time.
When the fellowship ended, I focused on the novel. Its publication was the milestone I was seeking. I got an agent. I gave birth to a daughter. The market crashed. I moved from San Francisco to Oakland. Whenever I turned to the short stories, it felt as if I were having an affair—cheating on the novel. They felt fresh and were a way for me to understand the present day events even as I wrote and revised, but never sold, the novel. Meanwhile, the war in Iraq escalated and then officially ended and then we again sent in more forces. All that while, the Shepherd family kept finding their way to the page. The main character, Clark, had gone to war too.
By the time the stories were ready, my agent had quit the business. Another told me the stories worked well, but needed more—more Iraq, more war. I made excuses, stalled, and then spent two years attempting to write stories set in a country in which I’d never stepped foot. I had a new, more demanding job and a kid in public school. I finally sent the new manuscript off to the agent who’d encouraged me to write more. He said, “thanks, but no thanks.” After more rejections, I looked over my stories. They were unruly as a group and lacked balance. Could it be with a few of my non-linked stories (yes, I’d cheated while I was cheating) that I had two manuscripts? I thought so. I sent them off to small press contests and was pleasantly surprised when they were chosen for publication. Of the trilogy that started this journey, only one of the stories contains the original experiment. Another has been shelved. What was once contemporary fiction is now historical fiction.
As I reflect on the years between the first stories and the last, I am reminded of something a friend once said, “Life happens between books.” Focusing on publication of my first project, the novel, as the ultimate form of legitimacy, had often made it seem as if the hours at my desk were amounting to nothing. It felt, correctly, as if I was not in control of the process. In those moments, it was tempting to ignore my new obsessions or see the other parts of my life as superfluous or intrusions, instead of what they were—stories unfolding, challenges shaping my perspectives and experiences that would make me a better writer. Three presidents later, American troops are still in Iraq and what I began as a side project was now two full-length books informed by parenthood, marriage, work and time. Life had happened and through it all, my writing had evolved.
by Glori Simmons author of Carry You (Autumn House Press, March 2018) and Suffering Fools (Willow Springs Books, March 2017)