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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 anthology (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 to 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 and 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.

When 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?

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