It’s always interesting to see your work in a magazine or journal in its final published form – the layout of the piece on the page, the general tone and feel of the publication, the use of pictures, if any.
This was the image chosen a few years ago for my short story “Funny Man,” which appeared in Sun Runner Magazine. The story is about a would be standup comic. I like the empty stage and the spotlight, the vague outline of the wooden structure on a piece of scenery. I didn’t know there was going to be a picture and the editor nailed the feel and subtext of the piece with his selection.
For my personal essay “Inner Canyons” recently published in Six Hens, an online literary journal, I was able to select the picture I wanted which proved to be a blessing and a curse.
The curse part. The setting for the essay is the Grand Canyon. So I found my canyon photos and went through them, searching for one that would be a good companion for the essay. Taken well before I wrote about the hike to the canyon floor, the pictures just weren’t right.
Next I went shopping on some free image sites and saw many pictures of great canyon scenery but they weren’t right either. Just not working. The essay combines an outer journey into the canyon with an inner journey through life’s canyons, culminating in a grand life choice between two life paths. The pictures lacked a closeness, an intimacy.
I felt pushed. I wasn’t finding a picture and the upcoming publication date neared.
The blessing part. I decided I was thinking too literally about a canyon. I flipped through more of my own pictures. Aha. This image with a butterfly popped up – a butterfly (me) with plenty of little “canyons” to explore among the stems of grass. Nearby, a tree with a fork in its trunk, a representation of two life paths. Picture problem solved. Essay published.
It took me time as I was writing the piece to get into my own inner canyons, beyond the feelings of being scared by the challenge of the real canyon. And so the essay begins:
We make our way down into the canyon, alone on the trail, the air hushed, almost eerie. Faint sounds—a human voice, the shuffle of hooves—break the stillness. A ranch hand on a buckskin horse rides into view, urging his train of pack mules up the footpath, their bodies swaying in disjointed rhythm. To make room, Danny and I press our backs against the inside wall of the South Kaibab Trail, knowing the other side of the narrow path drops into the Grand Canyon. Sweat collects under my arms, on my forehead. I push harder into the stony dirt behind me until I resemble a modern petroglyph. I’m scared.
You can read the entire piece online here:
I enjoyed the journey. From inception of the essay in a workshop – to instructor and class critiques – to doing a public reading with an abridged version due to time constraints – to input by the editor at Six Hens – to selecting a picture – to having the piece published online.
And I wonder. Do picture(s) with a short story or essay help set the mood or tone? Do pictures invite you in? Make you curious?