It Takes a Decade

By Edith Maxwell
North of Boston

I am so pleased to have my short crime story, “The Stonecutter,” in the new Fish Nets Fish Nets anthologyanthology (Wildside Press, April 2013). I wanted to share how I came to write my story, the last one in the book. (“Save the best for…”, right?)

As in the story, one day many years ago I saw a man who did not look American. I have traveled Porto_(Oporto),_Portugalto Portugal several times, and that’s how he looked. He wasn’t young but his head was full of dark hair that grew way down on his forehead. His clothes looked European in a traditional way, not the new hip European styles. He walked with purpose and even his shoes were of a different cut and leather than you would find here.

This traveler fascinated me. What was his story? How did he get here? Was he happy? What did he do for work? We do have a large number of Portuguese and Azorean immigrants in Boston, Cambridge, and coastal towns north of the city like Gloucester andGloucester Harbor, Massachusetts Beverly, which is where I was when I saw him. So it wasn’t a surprise to run across a man like him, but, being a writer, I wondered what his secrets were.

A little later I was driving somewhere at night. Road work was underway. Huge spotlights illuminated the area for the workers, but everywhere outside that light looked extra dark. This also fascinated me. It looked like a movie set instead of a construction zone.

Those two scenes set me on the trail of “The Stonecutter.” But it wasn’t a crime story originally. I wrote it as a story of bittersweet middle-age romance. I worked on it in my writers’ group about twelve years ago. I submitted it to a number of literary journals but got no takers, so I tucked the file away in my short story folder and forgot about it.

A fabulous anthology of New England crime fiction has been published for eleven years by Level Best Books. Every year except the first one I have submitted a story, and I’ve been lucky enough to get three published, in Riptide (2004), Thin Ice (2010), and the forthcoming Stone Cold (2014). A few years ago the Level Best deadline was coming up and I didn’t have a new story to send in. I dusted off “The Stonecutter” – then titled “Granite for Fernando” – and twisted the end into a story of murderous revenge. But I had rushed it and the editors of the anthology rejected it.

Winslow Homer's FishNetsWhen the call came out for Fish Nets last year, I worked on the story some more. I included a reference to a magic Azorean fisherwoman and her net. I read it to my writers’ group. This time I made the ending work. And I was super pleased not only to have it accepted but to have crack editor Ramona DeFelice Long say she loved the writing and that it needed very few edits. That’s where working on a story for more than a decade can get you. It was worth the wait.

Note: A version of this post appeared previously on the Fish Nets blog.

What scenes or characters in your everyday life have made you wonder? Writers, what’s the longest you’ve ever worked on a story?

3 Thoughts

  1. Longest I’ve ever worked on a story? About 35 years and counting. My own relations provide character and characters galore. At our wedding we had over 300 guests and I was DNA connected to more than half of them. The stories we pass around at family functions, about ourselves and our ancestors, are epic. Archetypes abound, and I add my own quirks and flaws to the mix. But it’s touchy stuff to write about. (Some of my cousins specialize in litigation.) I’ve come to accept this voluminous life saga as referential, not suitable for publication. But these snippets from real life provide a strong spine for my mystery novels and short stories. My first book took me 7 years!

    1. Amazing, Karla! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your own stories. We all draw from real life and then tweak so no litigation is possible. ;^)

      1. Doh! Of course what I also meant to say was ‘Congratulations Edith’ on “The Stonecutter” and being accepted (again) in Level Best Books Stone Cold 2014. Looking forward to great reads. This blog post is an encouraging reminder to revisit and revise. Thank you for that too.

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