On Being Summarized by a Student: Autopsy of a Story

In 1993 I enjoyed my first major publication when a story I wrote called “Synapse and Grace” was selected by Al Young for an issue of Ploughshares that he was guest editing, with the theme “Believers.” I’ve written about this before, how being so legitimized stopped my writing in its tracks for a while, and how the digitizing of Ploughshares’ archive got me started again, initiating me to the wonderful world of online fiction. The story was live online for a few years, but then Ploughshares took down those old issues (probably as part of a technical overhaul). I never did digitize the thing myself, and my copy is up in the attic. 

I googled the title because I needed the issue and volume number, and I was surprised to see that the story was summarized in 2012 by a business student in Nevada as part of what looks to be a class creative writing blog. If you want to see the post, it’s here, but keep in mind that he is journaling, so don’t be a Grammar Queen about it. His summary is 5 paragraphs down. I only mention his post because I am struck by how his misunderstanding of what I thought were key elements does not prevent him from producing a sensitive and insightful reading. It’s as if by merely glossing the nouns, he “got it.”

That said, there may not be that much to get. A troubled guy, fleeing his failed marriage, stops off in a bar in West Virginia and has an unprovoked spiritual experience while staring at a large painting of Dolly Parton. Nothing happens. Seriously. For 12+ pages or whatever. In fact Al Young made a point of telling our workshop that, even though he liked my story, no one should ever to write a story the way I had.  And now seeing the work again, reminds me of how much love/hate I experienced during my MFA.

By the way, I’m convinced that only three people read the published story: the student blogger, another ploughshares author who told me he had, and my mom. She thinks my endings aren’t so hot.

Here’s a service that claims to offer the full text, but there’s a big chunk of dialogue dumped into the sample I didn’t write. Wish I had though, livens it up a bit.

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