Thursday, December 01, 2011
When I owned Memphis's oldest smokeshop (FYI, this shop is now home to The Brass Door, an Irish pub), I met a lot of characters. A lot of people passed through the door looking for this cigar or that tobacco, or just to see the building and get a sense of the city's history. There was some history there, too. History that included local and regional politicians, actors, films, writers and businessmen.
And did I mention characters?
A guy stopped in one day, having walked across the bridge from Arkansas. He was traveling by canoe from Kentucky down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. We talked for a while, he wore thick glasses held together with tape and clothes that looked like they'd been traveling downriver, and he was in to buy some pipe tobacco because the smoke helped keep the gnats and mosquitoes off of him while in his tent. He said canoeing the river was just something he'd always wanted to do.
I wrote a story shortly after that about a man escaping from a tragedy, a man who wasn't on the run from any law, but from a memory and an accident; that's all it was, just an accident. He's canoeing the Mississippi River from his home in Illinois to New Orleans (though he has no real destination, other than "away") and the entire story takes place as he's close to drowning on an island just outside Memphis.
The story is called "Headwaters" and it's never made even a ripple when it comes to being published, but I've always liked the piece. I pull it out and tinker with it from time to time, see how Ben (that's my man in the canoe) is coming along with the water swirling around him and threatening to pull him under.
Since writing that story, I've penned (penciled?) a couple of novels and am working on a third now. Within all these swirling words and papers, I'm also trying to find an agent to sell a book, trying to keep the rejections from filling my lungs and pulling me under. In this search I've come across some blogs (too many to count, really) kept by literary agents and editors across the country, and I follow some of them for their wisdom and insider information. One such blog is called Glass Cases and is kept up by Sarah LaPolla, an agent with Curtis Brown Ltd. in New York. On her blog, she invites writers to submit short-short stories to be featured there. The pieces are to be kept at 1,500 words or less; there is no pay, there is no promise of representation. It's just a place where one avid reader can present a story to other avid readers.
I sent her an excerpt of "Headwaters" - I call it "Hav-A-Tampa" - a while back and she said she'd be delighted to feature it. And so here it is. The excerpt is a memory Ben has, as he's swirling and sinking in the Big Muddy, of a trip to Memphis as a child with his daddy.
I hope you'll enjoy it, I still do. And it's nice to see a home for it, even if it is just part of it. It's nice to know Ben has maybe found a foothold and can breathe again, even if it's only for a short while.