Writers on Writing: The Art of the Short Story

By Maurice A. Lee | Go to book overview

Telling Stories in My Head

Chris Offutt

Despite having written more than 100 short stories and publishing two collections, I don't consider myself a writer. The writing is secondary and always has been. What I am is a storyteller.

I am not attempting to draw cultural distinctions about my role in society, casting myself as contemporary shaman, soothsayer, court jester, or mythomaniac. I am content with my job description. I have always strung words into sentences on paper, but today the world calls me a writer due solely to having published. Before that, people considered me a restaurant worker who was not living up to his potential. I was pretty smart for a hillbilly, pretty well read for a dishwasher, pretty talented for a waiter.

What mattered was publication. Without such a claim, I was someone with a pencil and a part-time job. I was the scruffy guy scribbling on a park bench that you might shake your head over, wondering idly what he found so fascinating that he could publicly wall himself off from a gorgeous June day, oblivious to strolling women, a singing busker, the flight of birds, and sunlight sparkling on a pond. Even though I wrote several hours a day for a decade, I would never be regarded as a writer until a magazine printed a story. This didn't happen until I was age 31 for the simple reason that it didn't occur to me to send stories out.

After publication transformed me into someone worthy of interviews (as if I was a different person from the day before) I was suddenly thrust into the position of commenting about something that I had never talked about. I told journalists that 1 wrote to keep terror and despair at bay. It felt true and sounded enigmatic. There was the suggestion of darkness and volatility,

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