Finding story in unexpected places.
What’s the strangest place you ever discovered a story?
Many of you probably clicked on a link that was recently shared around on Facebook, a moving “missed connection” short story buried in the Craigslist personals. It’s been flagged for removal now, but here are the first couple lines:
I saw you on the Manhattan-bound Brooklyn Q train.
I was wearing a blue-striped t-shirt and a pair of maroon pants. You were wearing a vintage red skirt and a smart white blouse. We both wore glasses. I guess we still do.
You got on at DeKalb and sat across from me and we made eye contact, briefly. I fell in love with you a little bit, in that stupid way where you completely make up a fictional version of the person you’re looking at and fall in love with that person. But still I think there was something there.
(you can read the whole thing here.)
If you’re anything like me, upon reading the story, your thought process went something like: This is so cool! Why haven’t I thought of doing something like this? And then, somewhat ashamedly, because if I wrote something this good, I’d try to submit to journals, not post it on Craigslist.
All right, so maybe that’s a little snobby, and also a little inaccurate. It might be that measured in the context of Craigslist’s “missed connections,” alongside such endearing posts as “Man who questioned my taco eating abilities on Westwood,” and “cute, generous guy would like to take a few nudie photos of cute girl,” this particular story probably stood out like something straight out of Best American Short Stories. If I’d read it in the New Yorker or something, I don’t know that I would have felt that way. Admittedly, it was a bit flawed; there were a few places where I itched to use my red pen. Still, it’s raw and quirky. It keeps you hooked. And the strange context makes it a fun and surprising read.
I recently had an acquaintance ask me what I thought about her idea of publishing her entire novel, in chapters, on her blog, in order to build an audience before she got herself traditionally published. I very kindly explained that as a result of posting her novel on her personal blog, she would risk not being taken seriously as a writer, and it would be unlikely that any publisher would want to touch her book.
Yet, there are those rare occasions—and I mean rare—when an author takes an untraditional route and is just so good, or becomes incredibly popular for whatever reason, that he or she is immediately picked up by some big publishing house. It’s happened. It will happen again. Was it a likely possibility for her? I don’t think so.
What I was trying to convey to her, and to other people who have asked me similar questions, is that when you post a story on CL, or on FB, or on your personal blog, you are taking the risk that nobody will read it (except your mom). That sucks if you’re trying to get your name out there and be taken seriously as a writer. You also face an immediate prejudice, because anybody can post on these public or personal platforms. There are no editors, no judges, no filters. Most of the time, there’s minimal spell check. And readers know this.
Posting your short story on Craigslist? Super untraditional. Super risky. But in this case, it worked.
Whether intended to make a splash or not, the story is certainly getting plenty of notoriety. There’s a piece about it in The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, and several other places. It makes me curious: Was this the author’s plan all along? Did he intend to debut this short story for a wide audience, or was he simply trying to bring a smile to a few unassuming Craiglist-browsers’ lips?
Either way, I love this unconventional way of bringing story into the world. This “missed connection” inspired me to be more open and receptive to story, in whatever form and context it might appear—whether it’s graffiti in a nightclub restroom, on the label of a craft IPA, or in a folded note half-buried in the sand.
Here’s a fun one from Found Magazine: