Earlier this month, my short story, “The Memory of Huckleberries,” was published in Penumbra eZine. I’m incredibly pleased with the issue. Aside from the stories, which are engaging and skillfully written, I can’t say enough about the design of the magazine. The artwork is beautiful, and the pages are full of color. Even the scene break marks are appropriate to the theme of the magazine. Also, my name on the cover in REALLY BIG LETTERS makes me smile every time I look at it.
“The Memory of Huckleberries” began gestating over a year ago when I was walking on the beach in Moclips, Washington during a break at the Cascade Writers Workshop. I spent time just smelling the air, taking in the feel of the wet sand, the sounds of the receding waves shushing backwards down the shore. I captured that feeling in my mind, then started wondering what kind of story could go with it.
Originally, my thought was that the story was going to be about a dying Native American woman being visited by aliens that she, in her fevered delirium, thought were the mythical beings of her people. Then, after applying some tools I learned from David Levine at the workshop, the aliens disappeared and the story took on a different form. This was going to be a first contact story, but the plan was to follow the young white boy who had inadvertently brought a killing disease to the tribe.
When I look at the finished product, I am once more reminded that I am really not an outliner. Looking at my notes, I can hardly recognize the story. It started to write itself once words went onto the page, and much of the first three-quarters of the story is materially unchanged from that first draft.
The ending, on the other hand, went through at least six iterations. I couldn’t find the right balance. Does she die before seeing her family? Should I switch the Huckleberry’s POV when she comes ashore? What about telling the story to the grandson around the fire years later? I wrote all of these endings and more. They weren’t right.
I felt so strongly about the story that I just kept trying until I arrived at the final result you can find published in the September issue of Penumbra.
I don’t know if there’s a lesson to be learned here beyond trust your instincts. If something is close, but doesn’t quite feel right, keep trying. Don’t let almost be enough. Of course, you’ll get conflicting responses from readers. I certainly did. You have to find the “right” that is right for you and your story.
Have faith in yourself. You can do this.