does not describe me fully
it is where to start

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Short Story or How The Family Business Launched Me As a Published Writer

After writing about my family's religious influence, posting this short story seems appropriate. I harbor no illusions that it is New Yorker worthy, but it holds special meaning for me. Not only is it fitting in light of my previous post, but it was also the first of my stories to be published. I can still remember when the editor called to say he wanted to publish it. I burst out laughing and then quickly had to explain that I wasn’t laughing at him, that my laughter was one of sheer joy. I was going to be a published writer!

Reader reactions to this story fascinate me. It is interesting that, of all my stories, this the only one that more than one review wanted to publish. Originally, I had not even intended to submit it for publication. I did so only after, in my critique group, the atheist loved it because it made him laugh and the evangelical Christian asked me to share it with her women's group. I must be doing something right, I thought, if I can engage both ends of the spectrum. Incidentally, my husband swears this is a true story. It is not, though the incident could well have happened, given my family background.

Here is the beginning of the story. You can read the rest of it at my other blog.

This is what happened between the amen and the hallelujah. It was a stormy Sunday morning, not one for venturing out to church, certainly not in a foreign country where we didn't even know where to go. It's not that we were faithful about attending services back home. We went barely once or twice a year, but it became a church morning despite the inclement weather.

The amen came in a thunderclap. I was still in bed, half asleep, not quite awake, when the skies split open and spewed out damnation.

"Amen!" my father would have said.

He was a Pentecostal minister, the kind who breathed fire and then salved the pain by the laying of hands. He was a dancing preacher man. Got up in that pulpit and, Lord, he was gone. Something took him over—I won't say the devil got to him because that's what he was preaching against—but his voice strummed like a bass guitar strutting out a beat or a howling banjo stringing out a scream. It was all jumbled up together and in between came the hush. Like a singer dropping to pianissimo, he pleaded with sinners to come up and fall on their knees….


Sheila Deeth said...

Oh wow. I'm heading over to read the rest of it. I love it. I love the images you use to describe his preaching. And I loved the idea of breathing fire then salving the pain. Very nice.

A Cuban In London said...

What I like the most, besides the actual story, is how you combined an act of nature, the thunder, with your father's sermon. It was as if you had taken a strand from real events (thunderstorms, rain, grim weather) and used it very creatively in your short piece. I enjoyed it thoroughly. The humour is ever-present and subtle. I liked that. Many thanks.

On Zadie's latest part, I agree with your last sentences. And if fact that is one of the themes for one of my Sunday columns. What are classics? And who decides who they are?

Greetings from London.

Nevine said...

I followed the link and read the rest of the story. And I can tell you why your piece drew the attention of an atheist and a Christian, both. There seems to be no allegiance on the narrator's part to a particular following. So, you're not repelling anyone, really. And, the story rings true. You say it is fiction, but it reads as non-fiction, as the telling of true life events. I think that most readers would agree that when what we read rings true not only in our minds but also in our hearts, we are reading a winner. With this, how could you lose? And I am not at all surprised it was requested for simultaneous publication. Excellent telling, excellent characterization, excellent setting, lots to think about! Just right in every way, Judith.


Judith Mercado said...

Sheila: The image of a “breathing fire then salving the pain” preacher was an easy image to conjure up since it was one I have seen repeated many times with talented preachers.

Cuban: Sometimes a sermon, in the hands of a gifted preacher, is like an act of nature.

Nevine: While I was writing the story, it was “true.” I’m glad that feeling communicated itself to the reader.

Sun Singer: On the short story blog, you wrote: “I like this, the beat of it, the earthy pull of it....” While I was writing the story, I felt as if I were pulled along by a preacher-like cadence. It was only while reading it much later that I recognized the “beat of it.” Now when I read it, I feel as if I’m listening to a preacher deliver a rousing sermon.