This is a story about a story. My seventh story published. It happens to be a very dear story to me, partly because it took so long to travel from inception to print. Heck, it may not even be done on its journey yet.

I started writing “Coy Dog” in the spring of 2011. I had intended it to be the action-packed beginning of a longer story that was set on and around a small farm in upstate New York. The details of the story rang true to an event that happened to  my friend Andrew and I in the spring of 1984 when he and I, ever the cowardly types, failed to stick around to see if a pack of coyotes that were pestering the farm’s livestock would actually show up and face us- the valiant hunters- with our fully loaded .22. We bailed. Out of fear. On the way home Andrew pulled the car over and, as dusk was settling, asked me to shoot a woodchuck on the side of the road. The creature had been digging holes in his grandfather’s farm ( a different farm- I did grow up in rural Albany County after all), so I saw it as a community service, and, since I had never really showed the skill with a gun to shoot anything, I figured I- and the woodchuck-  had nothing to lose. Unfortunately for the woodchuck, I was wrong.

I managed, out of sheer luck, really, to kill the woodchuck with one shot. We won’t even talk about the guilt I felt for years after for killing the animal. It just never entered my mind that I would actually hit the critter. Ugh. The mistakes of youth.

Twenty seven years later, I wrote it down. Now, as I mentioned, the story really wasn’t about the coyote hunt, it was about the frustrations of a young college student who was being pressured to go back to school by his girlfriend when he really just wanted to stay working on the farm. This, by the way, bears no resemblance to me at all. When I was a sophomore in college I was loving life, studying English, drinking beer, and hanging out with my girlfriend. And, as I also mentioned, this five page intro was the start of a longer piece. Or so I thought.

I actually workshopped the story with my students at the Cole Summer Writers Institute that July. I wanted to talk about pacing with my students, so I used the opening as a jumping off point for conversation. It worked, and since I was immersed that week in teaching fiction, I worked the story some more, and then put it aside when school came back in session in the fall. The first time I sent the story out, now a somewhat more dramatic version of the “hunt” that actually contained a face to face sequence with the wild dog, was October 18, 2015. This version also contained the somewhat ponderous girlfriend element that I mentioned above.

I was thrilled with it.

Thirty editors in three countries over the next two years were not.

Yup, thirty rejections. Also in that time I workshopped the story again, this time to a group of my peers at the New England Young Writers Conference in May, 2015, which I attended as a chaperone. That workshop, led by the poet Tony Magistrale, helped me not only move the action to the front, where it is now, but also hinted that the protagonist’s girlfriend might be hurting the piece. I trimmed and cut, but didn’t really lose the girlfriend. I think I was still holding on to the element because I wanted to still write the longer story. I hadn’t really accepted that the story was a two thousand word story, not a fifteen thousand word story.

More rejections followed. I made more edits. Then, along came Kae Sable, the editor of Dime Show Review. She sat down with me (electronically, of course) and helped me whip the story into shape. With her edits, the girlfriend finally left. The story got tighter. As she put it in an email to me, “It’s not much other than trimming some fat. ” And from that trimming came the story that appears to the left. You can read it here.

I guess the point is that, as a writer, you need to persevere. You have to not be afraid to let a story evolve and to “trim the fat” if you have to; it’s true that you have to be willing to kill your darlings. You also need to keep working to get better. Lots of people helped shepherd this story out into the world: those students at Cole in 2011, the talented and funny writers at NEYWC, my wife (who read innumerable drafts of the story and discussed the story with me when I’m sure she really didn’t want to), and, of course, Kae Sable.

I’m hoping that the story makes it into the Dime Show Review print edition, but that’s still in the future. For now, I’m just gratified with the journey. That’s what it’s all about, this writing thing. And it’s way cool.

© 2017, Brian Stumbaugh. All rights reserved.