The literary anthology Book by Authors published two of my short stories in 2006. The 300-word pieces of flash fiction were “Birds,” about a boy who learns a valuable lesson after shooting one such creature, and “Today’s the Day,” about a man who decides to confess his secret.
Six years later, “Birds” is still one of the featured stories on the anthology’s homepage.
I’m proud of these early successes for two reasons. First, they were published while I was in my MFA program. Second, they were accepted on their first and only submission to a journal.
Not counting the writing I toyed with as a child, “Today’s the Day” can be considered my first short story. I sat down during my senior year of high school in what was a conscious attempt to craft an entire narrative on a single page. I was a filmmaker at the time, so this tale was drafted, enjoyed, and forgotten until I reinvented myself as a novelist years later.
That’s when I needed a short submission for Book by Authors and went hunting for this old story. It was always around 300 words, so I cleaned up this random attempt at prose and got it published shortly afterward.
“Birds,” on the other hand, is carved out of a much longer, 2600-word draft. The details leading up to the dramatic incident of shooting the bird were a good exercise, but I discovered the same idea could be conveyed in a tenth of the time. So, the new flash edition began in medias res right after the gunshot.
As I said, while I’m proud of these early successes, I was a young fiction writer six years ago, and those particular drafts were a little rough.
I have since revised “Today’s the Day” and the now-titled “Killing Birds” by bringing them up to 2012 standards in my debut collection The Lookout and Other Stories.
If anything, I find it interesting to compare the old version with the new version just to see how far I’ve come as a writer. I’m sure that in a few more years, I’ll think of other revisions I would like to perform, but I don’t see myself turning into Walt Whitman perpetually revising Leaves of Grass. I prefer looking forward to the next project, while keeping the corner of my eye on the past to track my progress along the road of constant evolution.
My goal is to be like Michelangelo, who on his deathbed is reported to have said, “Ancora imparo” (“I am still learning”). If that mindset was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me.