Pardon my absence last Tuesday—it was my 33rd birthday, so I had to let myself breathe, treat myself to a tipsy lunch, and wander around a suburban mall. I couldn’t have asked for a better kick-off to my Jesus Year.
But this week was made even better by the publishing of my first short story, “I Help You,” in Cosmonauts Avenue!
Well, technically, it’s my second. I guess my real first was when I was a senior in college, published in the spring 2007 issue of Georgetown’s on-again-off-again literary journal, The Anthem. It was called “Shine,” and it was weird and trying to be subversive because I was in college and that’s what you do when you write in college. (I still have the hard copy floating somewhere among my boxes of mementos.)
The one thing my current first story has in common with my original first story is the theme of trying to escape one’s past. In “Shine,” the character fell victim to a generational curse without noticing, it seemed; the protagonist in “I Help You” is significantly more aware of what’s at stake. Cici in “I Help You” is older than the main character of “Shine,” whose name I can’t remember, but I believe Cici’s awareness has more to do with my maturing as a writer. I’m more aware of what a character needs to know about herself, and also what readers expect to know about her that she doesn’t know. I’m also more mature as a person and know what it is like to create one’s own expectations of oneself rather than doing what you’re told.
Even though imposter syndrome tells me that “I Help You” is silly because it’s about a girl chasing after a boy, I’m infinitely proud of this story. In a workshop, someone said it was “well-plotted,” which I think this person meant as sort of an insult, as if to say the story isn’t “literary” enough. The perception is that, in “literary” stories, nothing actually happens; characters just “be.” But when do people ever not actually do anything? I mean, sure, on vacation, sitting on the beach or by the pool, do people just languish in their thoughts. But literally every other day in every other life circumstance, people do. They move, they act, they show how they love, hate, think, believe. Also, the definition of literary fiction is that which is driven by the character, not the plot. Cici and her desire to live a different life drive this story, therefore, it is literary, my friend.
I am so stinking happy about this story, I just don’t know what to do with myself. I pray that it is the first of many, many more. At least enough to fill a collection about Black women thriving in white spaces. Fingers crossed tight.
In case you missed the link above, you can read “I Help You” in Cosmonauts Avenue here: https://cosmonautsavenue.com/vonetta-young-fiction/.