Publication: “Leaving the Farm” (Failed Novel Redux)

The Farmhouse at Five Corners on Potato Hill, Ely, Vermont, c. 1983 – Click on the image to read “Leaving the Farm” in Sunspot Literary Journal, p. 69.
Meadow behind the Farmhouse at Five Corners on Potato Hill, June 6, 2020
The Farmhouse at Five Corners on Potato Hill, June 6, 2020

Picking the Bones

I have written two failed novels. The first one I didn’t finish; the second one I did. Three years ago, I wrote a blog post about it: “Failed Novel, Anyone?” As I noted in that post, the whole of the novel was less than the sum of its parts, the parts being in some instances short stories, in other instances mere vignettes.

Facing that fact, I pulled out the stories, did some revision, and submitted them to literary magazines as short stories. The following nine have been published:

  • “1917”
  • “1950: New Neighbors”
  • “A Modern Woman Visits Her Brother’s Wife”
  • “Convalescent”
  • “Cousin Charlotte’s Story”
  • “Her Mother’s Eulogy”
  • “Norman Archambeault Meets His New Neighbor”
  • “Return to Nova Scotia: 1925”
  • “The Strange End of Laura Farnsworth’s Marriage”

But It Was the Most Intriguing Novel Premise Ever!

The odd thing about the stories that have been published is that all of them have been centered on secondary–and even incidental–characters having nothing to do with the character and the situation that had so intrigued me in the first place:

An elderly woman has bought into an assisted facility, put her house up for sale, had all of her furniture moved out, and then refuses to leave the farm.

Can you get a more intriguing novel premise than that? The way I wrote it, yes, you can!

A Year Goes by . . .

I decided to pull out the carcass of the novel one last time to see if there was any meat left clinging to the bones. Much to my surprise, it looked as if I could salvage that intriguing novel premise, after all. I gave it a go, sent what was now a 30-page story instead of a 283-page novel to Sunspot Literary Journal–and they accepted it. Go figure! Click here or on the first image in this post to read the story.

The Inspiration

Sarah Emily Brown Schoenhut (1905-1999) in the Kitchen of the Farmhouse at Five Corners on Potato Hill – Say Say, as she was called, was my maternal grandfather’s first cousin.
Say Say at Her Most Elegant

And Now for the Self-Indulgent Bit

I had great fun with the research for the novel, some of which wormed its in when it should have stayed in the obscure little volume where it was found. If you have any interest in what self-indulgent writing looks like, here you go!

 *     *     *

President Coolidge did not say a single word during the entire luncheon. He did not speak to Mrs. Hoover on his left, nor to Mrs. Coolidge on his right, attacking his food like a ravenous child.

When the President had finished eating, Mrs. Hoover gave him a script to read. The script summarized the history of the Golden Eaglet, the requirements for earning it, and the great honor for the girls upon whom it was bestowed. The girls at the table smiled and blushed, then looked to their parents and their troop leaders to be excused, now that the presentation was over. But the President was not finished. He had lines of verse to read, and read them he did, in a queer nasal dogtrot that made the corners of Livy’s mouth twitch with suppressed laughter.

“I would wish you the range of the eaglet’s eye
The strength of his wings that your spirit may fly
Over all of life’s turmoil–your purpose held high.
I should wish you the courage to walk unafraid
Wearing proudly the symbol of your accolade.”

There were publicity photographs afterward, first a group photograph, then individual ones, when each girl received her award from the President. The thought crossed Livy’s mind as she waited her turn that the President of the United States should have better things to do with his time.

Up close, Calvin Coolidge had a thin, deeply lined face and smelled strongly of cheap cigars. Livy was surprised to see that he had red hair, a light, sandy shade, but still red. She hadn’t known that about him.

Weeks later, when she received her photograph, she was pleased with how well it had turned out. She was standing at the President’s side, receiving her framed certificate, her bearing strong, her smile confident. Calvin Coolidge was seated in a chair looking for all the world as though he were afraid of this young, strong Girl Scout who was shaking his hand so firmly.

Say Say as a Girl Scout
Say Say posing with Calvin Coolidge, neither of whom looked particularly thrilled with the proceedings.



223 thoughts on “Publication: “Leaving the Farm” (Failed Novel Redux)

  1. I read the post a couple of days ago but couldn’t get to read the story until now. The post is fascinating – makes me want to re-visit some of my old writings to see if there is anything of value in them. Congratulations on unpacking it and finding outlets for the stories. I really enjoyed Maggie’s story (though I heard Bob Dylan singing “I ain’t goin’ to work on Maggie’s Farm no more” for the first paragraph – then Maggie took over). I loved the detail of the treasures and how she sent things which meant things. I’ve been doing a bit of that myself recently – photos mainly – and finding that treasures/memorabilia don’t mean much to others.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for reading “Leaving the Farm,” Mary! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I didn’t think about the Bob Dylan connection! I do hope the post inspires to to re-visit some of your old writings. I’ll bet there is value in them. You’re right that the family treasures/memorabelia don’t seems to mean much to others–which is why I ended up being the Keeper of the Family Archives.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. My goodness! This was my full evening’s read, and it was just wonderful. I felt the character was me, how I would feel leaving my house after my husband died. I loved Maggie’s story, I think we would have been good friends. And, surely she was Say Say. The research on Say Say is fascinating. I am a writer and a storyteller based on what has happened, so it seems that an historical fiction story based on Say Say would be dynamite. Just sayin’. Thank you, Liz.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, Jennie! I thrilled that the story resonated so strongly with you. There is more search I have done on Say Say. (Thank you, Internet Archive.) I don’t think I’m finished with her story just yet.

      Liked by 1 person

              1. Oh, yes! She is my hero. I’ve written about her. She grew up in a log house in West Virginia. Everyone in her family died; parents, siblings, husbands AND grown children. Yet, she was always happy and giving, hard working, the grandmother every child should have. She divorced her first husband, which was radical. She became the first woman to work for a WV state office. Nan and Say Say would have been friends.

                Liked by 1 person

  3. Well, Liz, there’s plenty of meat in this post! The photos are beautiful, Say Say so inspiring, the story of the stories’ journeys, the advice and encouragement you experienced and now share, and your generosity in responding to everyone’s comments. I’ve bookmarked your story to read tomorrow morning!

    Liked by 5 people

      1. Your story, Leaving the Farm, is brilliant and heartbreaking. I wasn’t sure where it was headed and couldn’t stop reading. It’s an all too common narrative told with your uncommon attention to rich details which evoke so many feelings. Those snowy and frigid winters were once so typical. The sounds and smells of outdoors and old- house indoors are so tangible. Her internal dialogue is rendered so authentically. I’m so blessed to have children who will care for me when that time comes. Thank you for telling this ‘winter’ tale so full of spring and summer memories. Maggie was so right for not wanting to leave.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Liz,
    I have more than one “failed” novel in my stock. Some I keep working on. But a couple have ended up successful short stories. A couple of my short stories wound up in a book. Some of my song lyrics, too. When you write, you write and things grow in different and come up in different places. I love your photos, by the way. The past is precious to me, too, probably to everyone.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Fascinating. Love the photographs of your “great-aunt” as a young girl/woman. (Never throw a novel away. One day you pick it up and the pieces fall in…
    (“Ahmonna” need your tips to literary magazines… I gave up on publishing a long time ago. Lit. Agents are obnoxious. 😉 Maybe magazines are better?)

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting, Brian. I’m glad you enjoyed the photos of Say Say. Publishing in literary magazines is pretty much a numbers game of reviewing calls for submission on a regular basis and keeping the work circulating until it hits the right editor’s inbox. (I agree that literary agents are obnoxious.)

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, there’s a whole “PitchMad thing they do on Twitter. I’ll see calls for submission in Poets & Writers from time to time. Or, if you prefer, you can go to a writer’s conference and pay extra for the privilege of pitching to them. Given that they do live in a dying world, what confounds me is why there are so darn many of them.

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I read the post some days ago and enjoyed it. I saved the story for later when I had time to sit and read it without fear of interruption. I read it last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. I found it moving and inspirational. I will be reading it again in a few days just to savour it.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Liz, this is exactly the post I needed to read. I’ve been thinking a lot about a long-abandoned piece of nearly two-hundred pages… I hear i.t rattling chains in my sleep. After well over a year, I just don’t know where to begin? Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m so glad to hear that my post has prompted you to return to an abandoned piece. What I’ve discovered is that when I return to an abandoned piece after time has passed, I’m always surprised to see the new possibilities staring me in the face. Perhaps it can work that way for you?

      Liked by 3 people

  8. I think it’s fantastic that your ‘failed’ novels weren’t failures at all but simply an undiscovered little goldmines for short stories!! And how wonderful that so many were published!
    Love your photos by the way, both the new ones and the old ones Say Say.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Congratulations on the publication Liz. I can say you managed to dig out quite a treasure from a ‘failed novel’. There’s an inspiration there.
    This was a wonderful story. You captured it so well. I’ll look forward to reading the others too.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Liz, I enjoyed the journey with Calvin Coolidge. Many of your short stories have found their way to being published. Well done! While I dabble in short stories when I need a break from poetry, I am not sure if I have the necessary perseverance to write a novel.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you very much! I’m glad you enjoyed the little scene with Calvin Coolidge. It was a bit of self-indulgence. 😉 Sometimes I can get away with it–and sometimes I can’t! Novels definitely take perseverance. And they’re less forgiving than short stories.


  11. wonderful that you pulled out the stories and had them published – and I enjoyed learning more about what authors experience and how objective you can be about your work. That is admirable.
    and enjoyed the old photos and the Coolidge/eaglet story.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Ahh – the years of experience is so wonderful – one of my favorite textbook authors (Paul Muchinsky ) comes to mind. I would ask my
        Students – “now do you think he woke up and wrote this book right away?”
        And then say something like
        “No – he honed his skills – he wrote and taught the subject for years – and wrote more and edited and wrote ”
        And then note how “big” great works happen with a lot of small great works
        And that came to mind with your post!
        Also – how you did not force the novel! That takes such discernment !

        Liked by 1 person

          1. No but those books sound amazing! And maybe having them here in the comments will be a resource for others – and I will add one of them to my wish list – can’t decide which one 😊 maybe the power one

            Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Liz, I see how your story is on page 69. I have bookmarked to read afterwards. The heading photo in the Journal is very intriguing. The photo of the meadow behind the Farmhouse is breathtaking. And then I stopped and immediately breathed easier.

    Very wise observation and words, “…the whole of the novel was less than the sum of its parts…”. I find I can lose perspective on my own projects. I am inspired by the elderly often. I want to be that older person when I get older. I have only met you recently, yet your words immediately draw me into the story, the place, the time, the people. I love the “Self-indulgent bit!”

    Liked by 2 people

  13. This is interesting how you didn’t give up on your so called “failed novel” and made nine short stories out of it and got them published. The stories featured secondary characters, and they became your main characters in the short stories.

    I think your research and your historical fiction is wonderful. Having the old photos to validate your writing is wonderful.

    This post is inspiring to me, Liz. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. You’re a very skilled writer, Liz. By coincidence, shortly before reading your post, I read another by a novelist who was writing his memoir then decided to change it to a series of short stories because he wanted more creative freedom. It reminds us of the versatility in what we do – and that sometimes, you also have to leave a thing and come back to it with new eyes. BTW, my first memoir was originally written as a series of short stories, all true stories written over a period of nearly 30 years.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Liz, Say Say doesn’t look like she would be the sort of person in older age that would leave the farm just because everyone expected it of her.
    I finally read Maggie’s story. My apologies for taking so long to do that. I was quite transported and very moved. I want to be Maggie. Indomitable. I cheered for her. These are the stories I want to read. You are a wonderful storyteller and writer, Liz.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I enjoyed reading your story this morning! Very well done. I could visualize the images as I read. So sad to come to this juncture in life, alone and unsure of the future. I thought maybe your story would end with her dying peacefully in the house and never having to leave, but then again that is not the usual reality!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All of the chapters that led one to the other ended up as “Leaving the Farm.” Other chapters were published as short stories. Then other chapters couldn’t be salvaged. Have no fear–I’ll keep on writing!

      Liked by 1 person

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