Every morning for the past week or so, a mockingbird has risen with winged purpose to the top of the telephone pole nearest our house. From there, he releases an unbridled enthusiasm of trills, tweets and thrilling cascades of notable notes, seemingly of endless variation. I have read that a mockingbird can sing more than 400 different songs; I like to think that my mockingbird is Sinatra in feathers—400 songs is just a morning’s work, and the evening calls for 400 more.
But what I really like to think is that the mockingbird is unleashing a torrent of stories, rapid-fire, almost like a stand-up comedian. They are all colorful and antic: “Hey, do you remember the time I dated a bluejay? That ended so badly that every time I see a bird dressed in blue I head south for the winter.” And that story is then followed by a quick tale of why warblers make the best therapists and on.
Stories are fascinating; well-told, they pull a listener forward, with a “And then what happened? No way!” or “Don’t tell me anymore, that’s too sad. But did she die?” When a story clicks, all the elements—place, plot, character, mood—coalesce into a miniature world, a world where you feel the light breezes, and cower from the heavy storms.
Can My Tales Carry a Tune?
I have a collection of short stories that is going to be released by a small publisher, AuthorMike Ink, either late this year or in early 2012. Working with the company’s editor over the past couple of months has been interesting, because many of the stories are older pieces, written in the 80s and 90s. Revisiting them is like perching on a telephone pole from quite a ways off—the writer that sang those stories isn’t quite the writer I know now, though many a turn of phrase still fits in the ear. There are some new pieces in there too, but the bulk of them are from some time back.
What’s been particularly intriguing in the edit was that for a couple of stories I was requested to make modest-yet-significant changes to the endings. I had considered those stories fixed, but in working on them again, I see they are more like songs: stretching a note, slowing the cadence, pushing the melody—a change in rhythm is a change in meaning. Most gratifying is that I think the editor made good suggestions and that the work has been improved.
Anyway, that’s the working cover for the book up above. I had a number of the stories in full on the site, but I’ve removed all but one, which will serve as a teaser for the publication. I left that one because it won the National Steinbeck Center’s 1999 Short Story contest (and a thousand bucks)—they already paid for it, so it’s free to you. (And yeah, it’s got a couple of holes in it—the newly edited version is better.)
I understand that the male mockingbird sings his springtime stories to attract a mate; if my girlfriend asks, tell her I’m only doing the book to please my mother.