“Story is a State of Mind” :
Sarah Selecky is a Canadian writer, whose debut short story collection This Cake is for the Party was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Short Story Award in 2010.
She has published short stories in The Walrus, Geist, The Journey Prize Anthology, The New Quarterly, and Prairie Fire before publishing This Cake is for the Party in early 2010.
Selecky launched an online writing instruction course, Story Is A State of Mind, in 2011. She regularly posts irresistible writing prompts. (Link at the bottom of the page.)
I love what Sarah’s contribution tells about the writing process (and her own writing process) too: how the courage and energy to write what turns out to be the “wrong” thing can be the very thing that turns a whole story idea around and brings it into being.
In introducing her piece, Sarah says:
The following 2 paragraphs are taken from a draft of a story that is now in This Cake, called “Watching Atlas.” I was stuck around the 6th or 7th draft of this story, and decided to experiment with point of view as a way to get to the heart of it. I still didn’t know, at that point, what the story wanted to say about itself, and voice was a big part of the problem.
When I switched into Lise’s point of view, I learned something about Greg, and that, in turn, made me see that the story was actually Greg’s to tell.
But I always liked the energy of this raw, raging “I dare you” piece. Meaning: I dared myself to write it. Doing that really helped me make a breakthrough, so I’ve always been grateful for it. It’s been sitting in my “leftovers” file for the past 6 years.
Four hours later, the Toyota pulls into the driveway. Lise is in the kitchen making dinner. It’s a Doughboy night again and she’s gathered pizza toppings from the fridge. A quarter of a green pepper, a little spongy now, but diced and baked it will be fine. She finds a can of sliced black olives in the cupboard. Does Atlas like olives? Does it matter? Lise knows exactly what will happen when Greg walks in. He’ll look at the curl of blue cardboard on the kitchen counter and his whole body will sag, like it always does when he looks at her now: repulsed. She knows she’s unattractive. She’s fat, her hair is stringy, she moves through the house like she’s a lump in a bowl of cream of wheat. She knows Greg wishes she’d look more like the kinds of girls he likes to look at, wishes she were another kind of woman – prettier, bouncier, career-driven, someone more like Neve Campbell. A woman who wears a push-up bra with matching garters (bought in Italy, with lace detail), who knows they’re a hassle but wears them for sex appeal, who insists she wears them for herself because it makes her feel feminine, while working at home trading stocks online. He’d come home from work, walk in the door just like he’s doing tonight, and she’d say, Baby, we made a mint today, and she’d show him a print-out – a graph, something to prove the numbers – and he’d flip, he’d absolutely flip, he’d get a hard-on from the numbers and then he’d throw her on the couch right there, he wouldn’t be able to stop touching her, so utterly captivated he would be by their income.
Atlas rolls a piece of dough into a worm shape, presses it flat with the palm of his hand, then scrapes it up and rolls it again. Greg comes in with shopping bags. Greg earns money and he spends it. Greg is an excellent consumer. Lise bites her bottom lip to stop. These mean thoughts come in the voice of a whiny child, scornful and sarcastic. She makes herself cringe with her own sucky voice. Greg is the only man who has ever loved her so wholly, he stays with her now even though she’s fat and graceless, this strong and beautiful and financially solvent man who could have anyone, any woman at all – or man, for that matter, because Greg turns heads in both genders, he’s that perfect, and Lise knows that gay men have higher standards – and here she is, bitchy bitchy bitchy, feeling so sorry for her puffy ass that she can’t even scrape off the couch to go grocery shopping for a healthy meal, even when there’s a child involved, a young boy’s growth hormones still developing, and she’s so lazy and self-absorbed that she feeds him pizza from a cardboard tube, probably so full of chemicals that he’ll never grow at all, he’ll turn into a stubby, foreshortened man who would never turn heads, let alone the heads of gay men, and Greg would be right to despise her.
To visit “Story is a State of Mind”