Every now and then I get an idea for a great story, but unfortunately, not often enough to make a career of writing - infrequently enough, in fact, that my writing skills dull considerably between attempts and I find myself trying to cobble words together in some semblance of style. Recently, I had what I thought was the kernel of a terrific story. I outlined it and wrote a rough draft and I felt I was on the road to something people might actually enjoy reading. The story was fine, but it seemed sketchy and I needed to fill it up with details.
I needed some inspiration, so I went to read some of my favorites again. I considered reading stories by those known primarily for one story: Charlotte Perkins' "The Yellow Wallpaper" and "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson, for example, but I instead went back to those whose style I always admire. I read Edgar Alan Poe's stories when I had barely learned to read and the supernatural style has always been my favorite, so I went back to Poe and to Jorge Luis Borges and Bruno Schulz (whose "Street of Crocodiles" should be better known). What I really needed, though, was not to be found in them and I went on to Anton Chekhov, who I think was the best short story writer ever.
I've read 200 of Chekhov's stories, but there's always another somewhere that I've missed, so I tracked down one I didn't recall having read in an anthology of Russian literature. There were all the usual culprits in there, plus a few with whom I was not familiar. "The Gentleman from San Francisco" by Ivan Bunin was an unexpected delight, so I searched for other stories he'd written. They were harder to find than one would expect, as Bunin was a Nobel Prize winner, but I found a recent translation of all his stories. I have found a new favorite author! I rapidly poured through all of his stories until I found "Cold Fall."
It was my story. My story was published in Russia in 1944. What's worse, Bunin wrote it better than I ever could have written it.
Then I thought: this true story of finding my own story already written would in itself make a good story. Of course, then it would be derivative of Borges' "The Man Who Wrote Don Quixote."
Thank goodness the standards of publishing on a blog aren't very stringent!
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