Sunday, May 20, 2012

Short Story Month, Day 20. William Saroyan

I've been fairly diligent about the prompts here, but I haven't done too well on giving shout outs to great short story writers. Maybe we can fit in a few before the month draws to a close. William Saroyan is definitely one of my favorites. I came to the stories in a round about way. I first knew Saroyan's work through his play The Time of Your Life, which I saw in Ashland, Oregon many years ago. Then, some years ago, I came across a book, which in some ways I think of as magical or mysterious. In the thirties, Saroyan became famous for his story The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze--to all intents and purposes, it launched him. The book I'm thinking of included that story, but more importantly for me, the first long segment of the book was on writing, his philosophy about doing it, and his account of how The Daring Young Man got published. With writers, as perhaps with everyone, you have to take their autobiographical tales with a grain of salt, but the way he told it was this (to the best of my recollection). He rented a fifth floor walk-up in some cheap part of San Francisco, and started writing a story every day. When he was done writing it he would send it off to the New Yorker. Not at first, but eventually, they published one.

Now this is not a prescription. The New Yorker is a bit of a different beast these days, and you might starve to death before that gambit paid off. The important thing about the story is Saroyan's commitment. His intention. His ability to put it all on line. Saroyan was by many accounts not the greatest guy in the world, especially where his family was concerned, but that's another topic. Here, it should only concern us that he did end up writing marvelous stories, which I think are better than his play. The play feels a little schmaltzy or old-fashioned now (I saw it again a few years ago, and still emjoyed it) but the stories are different. New Directions put out two collections that I read shortly after reading the above: The Man With the Heart in the Highlands, and Madness in the Family. Although it's been some years now since I read these too, I feel secure in recommending them.

The mysterious part about that book I read was that I have never been able to find it since, though I've gone back to the library where I found it, asked on line, and done the usual kind of searches for it. I suppose it doesn't really matter, because it came to me at the right time and might not have the same meaning for me now. But all the same.

Today's prompt:

Before Saroyan's short story break out, "The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze" was already a very popular song. Think of a popular song title, and write a story from it.

I was actually trying to come up with a list or generator for this, and was unsuccessful, but I did find this and this in the process, which may even be better...

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