Writers on Writing: The Art of the Short Story

By Maurice A. Lee | Go to book overview

A Short History of a Short Story:
A Writer's Beginnings

Merrill Joan Gerber

The impulse to write was natural to me from the age of six or seven: live life twice. Live it once in all the confusion and innocence and astonishment of the first experience, and live it again on paper, making sense of it, getting some perspective on it, getting it down, getting it right, getting it locked in for future reference or the recapturing of the pleasure or to punish oneself with guilt or shame or pain. The mind that writes short stories is a worrying mind. Why did something happen the way it happened? Who was to blame? What forces forced the people to act as they did? Why did my mother rage at my father for helping his sisters move their furniture? Why was my aunt in love with my father? (This was not a conjecture: she told me as much, that she would be a better wife for him.) Why did my grandmother tell me that God could see everything I did, so I'd better be good?

All of these questions were embedded in my being from the start of consciousness, and it seemed to me if I thought hard enough, I could find the answers to them.

I looked to my childhood friends to see if any of them had these impulses— to ponder what had happened to them, to reflect and consider why, for example, Ruth had not invited us to her party, or why Alan's mother embarrassed him by screaming at him in front of his house while the rest of us were playing stoop ball with him, or why Linda's father made comments about Linda's mother's large breasts and sometimes made a grab for them. And especially why we hated to play at Lindas house when he was there, with his missing front tooth, and the way he looked at us.

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