“You will not believe what happened today! “ “Have a minute? I have this great story.”We are forever telling stories. Stories link us, they connect us to our own lives and to the lives of others. Story-telling is as natural as speaking and goes as far back as humankind.
And so we tell our stories. We describe and elaborate, at times adding color and interest to make a better story. We tell about what the cable guy said when he hooked us up to HBO—was he flirting? Or the delightfully outrageous outfit on the supermarket checkout girl with the eyebrow piercings and nose ring, when she rang up our free-range chicken parts and Eddy’s Caramel Delight ice cream.
And then there are our family stories, told and retold. Stories that go back generations become part of our oral history, like the one about our grandma who bribed the border guard in Austria with cigarettes hidden in the hem of her underskirts, so she could continue her passage to America. We pass down these stories to our children and grandchildren, so that they might know how it was with their ancestors, linking the generations one to the other.
Sometimes the spoken word becomes the written word, more structured, more ordered, but always there are our stories.
Isaac Bashevis Singer said, “If stories weren’t told or books weren’t written, we would live like the beasts, only for the day… the whole world, all human life, is one long story.”
“Alterations” are my stories, a collection written over a period of twenty years, some of them harking back more than fifty years, stories that had lived in me, the way stories do, as a bit of memory – a certain smell, the turn of a head, or the particular sound of a voice.
Decades later, they called to me, the memories of them morphing, changing, altering, the people becoming characters that were and were not them. And I kept writing. I dressed my characters, gave them habits and a particular way to speak, and put them down on the pages, wanting things they could not have, remembering things they wanted to forget. They mended and they sewed, they owned stores and boutiques, they jerry-made contraptions and carved dollhouse furniture. They dug in the dirt and planted tomatoes, and put together a jigsaw puzzle in a far off mountain cabin. Makers and fixers, they had the creative qualities derived from my parents and passed down to me.
But Alterations didn’t start out as a collection. It started with a story I began in 1994 about a quilted dime-store night table and a sleeping Mexican painted on a cupboard door, a story that was rejected ninety-three times before a literary journal picked it up. Other of my stories were met with same type of rejection. Was I discouraged then? Did I think that maybe I should try another line of work? Not me. I kept on plugging away, typing away, and sending away stories trying to get them into print.
What was I? Some kind of nut-case who liked nothing better than to open the mail and find a “try us again” form letter rejection? Did I have a burning need to drive up the stock of Staples and Hewlet Packard with my incessant purchase of inkjet cartridges and reams of multipurpose office paper? What made me want to write when no one wanted to read my writing?
Perhaps I was out to prove that The Little Engine That Could chugged away inside me—The Little Engine that Could Not stop writing. I write therefore I am?
I wonder if I was longing for a promise of closeness with imagined readers. Was I lonely and didn’t know it? Was some kind of intimacy lacking in my life? Could there have been something I couldn’t get from the people I knew in the flesh, that I had to invent characters who lived in worlds of my invention? Did I want to be the wizard who could make things happen to them—wonderful and terrible things that only I had the power to create?
Maybe it was some of, or all of the above. In any case, I kept on writing, writing and rewriting, and sending out my stories. Finally, “Love, Mona” that first story, was accepted, and over time, others as well, but I no more thought story collection, than I thought my name was Joyce Carol Oates.
A collection needs a connective link, stories that have something in common, a recurring theme or idea that ties them together. But I wrote my stories without a specific plot line in mind, the characters and the writing itself bringing the story to fruition. Little girls and adolescents, a teenager, a father, a son, grown women, a whole slew of characters, who to my mind had little to do with each other. Yet when I reread them all again, I saw that there was a link, and that link was family. Families of different types and mindsets, families that were broken and those that were healing, families my characters clung to, and those from which they ran. And it was to that enduring notion of family life, with all its messy complications, its intrigues and dramas, its loving and sometimes mysterious bonds, that I dedicated “Alterations,” in memory of my parents, Molly and Max Weingarten.
This post originally appeared on BestChickLit.
Rita Plush: Many of the stories in this collection are told through the eyes of a child growing up with the rumble of the El along 86th Street, walking with her mother in her big-shouldered mouton coat, as she did her errands and talked with the shopkeepers. The walkup apartment house where she lived with her family, the damp steamy smell of the lobby where the metal taps on her shoes made a satisfying clicking sound as she ran up and down the marble steps. The seamstress in her apartment building, her friend’s father who seldom spoke, the people her parents knew, the relatives – her ear pressed to the wall, hearing talk that was not for her to hear – the people they spoke of in Yiddish so the child would not understand.
Beginning with Frances, the young child grieving for her mother in “Love, Mona,” these stories come full circle to Rusty in “Feminine Products,” pregnant but unmarried, desperate to make a family for her unborn child. I hope they keep you turning pages, both interested and entertained, as the characters become ‘altered’ by their circumstances and continue to make their way in life.
Alterations is available in ebook and trade paperback from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Alterations-Rita-Plush/dp/1938758153/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
and from Barnes & Noble in ebook http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/alterations-rita-plush/1115410411?ean=2940016704166
Visit her website http://www.ritaplush.com for more information about Rita.