The Heart Lay Down with the Storm*

I once wrote a story about Flannery O'Connor.  The inspiration came from a March 1, 2009, New York Times Book Review of Brad Gooch's Flannery.  The article sits, yellowing, on the bookshelf behind my desk along with a couple of old love letters. Reviewer Joy Williams quotes the only man who ever kissed Flannery. He reported it was like "kissing a skeleton."

The very day I read the review, I saw an ad calling for submissions to Shenandoah’s special issue about Flannery O’Connor.  Inspired by the imagine of the kiss, I began.  But it wasn't too many days before I gave my story up for shit.  I had hundreds of story ideas in various stages of development, all given up for shit.  I could spend days on end, clicking though old files, trying to find something of mine I could stand to work on.


I had fallen into a bad pattern and realized it might be time for some professional help. I attended a four day workshop in San Francisco with a highly respected editor and 11 other needy writers from around the country. It was exhausting to realize I had just as far to go as everyone else.

I had always been scared to take a break from writing, worrying that three months would turn to six, to one year, to five.**  Still, on the plane ride home from the workshop, I decided it would be wise to take the summer off.  I made large pieces of colorful art and read Patangoli’s yoga sutras, and Vivekandanda’s The Pathways to Joy.  Many of the things I learned related directly back to my writing life.  I realized that in order to continue surviving as a writer, I would have to practice disengaging my ego from the products of my creativity.  

Meanwhile, I didn’t know what was going to happen after the kids went back to school.  I sat down at my desk and saw the note I’d made about the Shenandoah special issue and remembered the Flannery story I'd started.  By lucky chance, because of its nifty design, I had recently bought James Wood's How Fiction Works. Every night, I read a few pages, and every day, I wrote a little bit more on the Flannery story, convincing myself not to abandon it. 

The ending finally came, a bit of a surprise, since I thought that there was going to be a car accident.  Instead, Auntie Nel runs off with Mordecai.  (I changed Nelson to Mordecai after realizing that the little boy in “The Artificial Nigger” is named Nelson.  Also, Biffy said Aunt Peg sounded to her like peg-leg, so she become Nelma Jean.) 

Continuing to read Flannery’s letters I decided that I had to change the beginning scene as well because she hated exercise and wouldn’t be out walking on the road.  Plus, it didn’t seem right to have her fall and then just get right up again.  From the sounds of it, she was physically pretty fragile. 

Other edits I made and noted in Origins of "The Heart Lay Down with the Storm":  

Changing “ominious car” to “fierce car” because Flannery used "fierce" to describe most everything in her first novel Wise Blood, from Hazel’s hat to Enoch’s grip, to a little girl’s face. 
“Her stories. . . they spoke to me.” Mordecai said, but I changed it to “. . . they spooked me” because that’s what I heard in my mind every time I read it. 
I added the line, “She didn’t look as smart as he’d anticipated,” after discovering Flannery describe how a man came up to her after a reading to say exactly that. 

*Rejected by Shenandoah, One Story, Missouri Review, Georgia Review, Iowa Review, Boulevard, Narrative, American Short Fiction, Kore Press, Santa Fe Writer's project, Georgia College and State University Press, Oxford American.

**Would that be so bad? Why is quitting so impossible?

1 comment:

  1. Ignore the reviewers -- it is still a great piece of writing!!