I’m pleased and excited to link to a story, “Awful Magic,” in the just-released issue of Storyscape Journal, which I’ve read and liked for a while now.
The story is about grief, magic, and belief, among other things, and is set in one of my favorite places: Cleveland!
I’m still digging through this issue but there is some great stuff in it. Working with the editor, Alyssa Songsiridej, was a pleasure.
Looking through proofs for this issue gave me a chance to think about how many different versions this story went through before it found its way to publication. Let’s just say a lot. Glancing through my files, the version I submitted was either the 19th or 20th draft of this story.
What most struck me, reading through this version, was how much more I had written about various characters and ended up cutting. Example: one of the main characters, Brian, is a struggling magician who turns to “comedy magic” when he learns that he has better luck making people laugh than he does wowing them with his magic. Brian learns that a video exists of him from his days as a “serious” magician, working under the name The Great Tostini.
All that made the final cut of the story, but I cut out the origin of the name: he had a job working at supermarkets around the Cleveland area, doing in-store promotions and handing out free samples for various products, one of which was a line of tostinis. Brian is so taken by this name, feeling that it sounds vaguely exotic and mysterious, that he adopts it as his stage name.
Going through proofs, I was pleased that I’d taken out that detail—it really does nothing for the story and doesn’t give valuable new information on Brian. But I also felt like it really fit, and remained true even if it wasn’t something I told readers. I’m hoping the name The Great Tostini suggests some kind of story.
This is something I often tell fiction students, that frequently sounds artsy fartsy or almost cultish: knowing more about your story and your characters than you let on, cutting things out of a story, can have a surprisingly powerful effect. Part of this advice comes from the writerly truism that you can omit information from a story, but as the writer you should know what’s not there. Part is a more nebulous sense that the cut material leaves behind a kind of residue that sensitive readers will pick up on; or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that readers can detect a kind of negative space where that information was, and know that an answer exists, that there is more to the picture even if they can’t tell what it is.
Anyway, that’s my perspective on this story, and hopefully not the most interesting or compelling thing for other readers. Definitely check out this really excellent journal. The thing that attracted me to Storyscape in the first place is the way they curate the journal, not using “fiction” and “non-fiction” as categories but “truth,” “untruth,” and “we don’t know and they won’t tell us,” where neither editor nor writer helps you out by declaring what’s true or not true. This last category is so much up my alley as a fiction writer and a thinker about fiction, it’s kind of funny to me that my story is squarely in the “untruth” category: it kind of feels like everything else I’ve been writing for the last couple years should be in that “we don’t know” box.