A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 7 – Why Don’t You Dance?, by Raymond Carver

The bartender pouring the absinthe, note the clear green color.
Pirate’s Alley Cafe, New Orleans

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 7 – Why Don’t You Dance?, by Raymond Carver

Read it online here:
Why Don’t You Dance?, by Raymond Carver

He considered this as he sipped the whiskey.

—-Raymond Carver, Why Don’t You Dance?

If I could write like anyone, I would want to write like Raymond Chandler.

His stories are a revelation to me. His characters real, with flaws and good points, – with the flaws winning out in the balance by quite a bit.

What I like the best is the way he leaves stuff out. He doesn’t tell us everything, only what’s important. In today’s story, he doesn’t tell us how or why everything has come to the state it is, because that isn’t important. He doesn’t even tell us what happened… because that isn’t important.

He does tell us that they drank, and that they drank too much, and that they danced, and that the records were crappy.

Because that is what is important.

Interview with Raymond Carver:

INTERVIEWER
But what made you want to write?
CARVER
The only explanation I can give you is that my dad told me lots of stories about himself when he was a kid, and about his dad and his grandfather. His grandfather had fought in the Civil War. He fought for both sides! He was a turncoat. When the South began losing the war, he crossed over to the North and began fighting for the Union forces. My dad laughed when he told this story. He didn’t see anything wrong with it, and I guess I didn’t either. Anyway, my dad would tell me stories, anecdotes really, no moral to them, about tramping around in the woods, or else riding the rails and having to look out for railroad bulls. I loved his company and loved to listen to him tell me these stories.
—-Raymond Carver, from the Paris Review

A cute couple.

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Daily Writing Tip 4 of 100, Get In, Get Out. Don’t Linger. Go On.

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Get In, Get Out. Don’t Linger. Go On.

Source – A Storyteller’s Shoptalk by Raymond Carver

When I was 27, back in 1966, I found I was having trouble concentrating my attention on long narrative fiction. For a time I experienced difficulty in trying to read it as well as in attempting to write it. My attention span had gone out on me; I no longer had the patience to try to write novels. It’s an involved story, too tedious to talk about here. But I know it has much to do now with why I write poems and short stories. Get in, get out. Don’t linger. Go on. It could be that I lost any great ambitions at about the same time, in my late 20’s. If I did, I think it was good it happened. Ambition and a little luck are good things for a writer to have going for him. Too much ambition and bad luck, or no luck at all, can be killing. There has to be talent.

I have become a huge fan of Raymond Carver. If I could write like anyone – I would like to write like him.

His short stories are so economical and so perfectly slightly off-kilter. Odd enough to be educational but not so strange to be twee. There is a lot of drinking in Carver’s stories, a lot of hopelessness… and just enough love to make sure most everyone is able to get out of bed in the morning.

Today’s hint is, I suppose… I hope… a key to getting that right.

A Month of Short Stories 2015, Day 1 – What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day 1 – What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, by Raymond Carver.

Read it online here:

What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

This podcast has an audio version, read by the author. The actual story starts at the 6 minute mark.

It is no accident that I am opening the month of short stories with a Raymond Carver story. I have been reading his work a lot over the last year and I have decided that his stories are the stories I would write if I could.

Today’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is a classic, arguably his most famous. It is especially well known now – because it is a stage version of that simple story that is being developed and staged during last year’s Oscar Winning Best Picture, Birdman.

Birdman opens with the quote that is on Raymond Carver’s tombstone:

“And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.”

The plot of What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is simple enough. Four people, two couples, sit around a table drinking and talking. There is a lot of drinking in Carver’s stories, and a lot of hopelessness. In this story one couple talks about her ex-lover, who never was able to get over her and was cursed with an unstable mind. It lead to his death.

Was this love? Or was it madness? Or was it both? Or is there even a difference?

Those are only some of the subtle and complex questions the story brings up – it is overflowing with ideas and questions, despite its short length.

That is one thing I love about Carver’s stories – the efficiency and the brevity. It is genius to be able to say so much in such a small space.

In researching and reading deep about how he worked I did discover one interesting fact. Carver didn’t write with quite that much brevity. His editor was relentless in driving him to down his word count – to cut his prose to the bone.

For example, once you’ve read What We Talk About When We Talk About Love – then go to this story, Beginners, from the New Yorker. It’s the same story, in draft form, before editor Gordon Lish had Carver chop away at the prose.

It makes for a very different story. I like the short version better. The stuff that has been exorcised – it’s all fluff, things you know anyway… or at least will know once you think about it. There is genius in brevity.

Thinking about Carver’s short stories and about movies… there is a well-known film, Short Cuts, directed by Robert Altman, that strings together several Carver stories, but not today’s. I watched the film to see if it gave me any more insight into the writing.

I was disappointed… even though the movie was well-done. It was more of an Altman movie than a Carver one. For example, it was moved from the Northwest to sunny Los Angeles. These stories need overcast skies, I think. Altman’s natural humor is sprinkled throughout – which dilutes the agony of the characters too much, I think.

Even though I haven’t said very much, I don’t think I’m going to say any more. Brevity…. well, you know.