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.

 

 

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

  1. Liz, so glad you got many short stories out of your “failed” novel! Reminds me that some novels, as you know, are basically collections of interconnected short stories: Elizabeth Strout’s “Olive Kitteridge” (set in New England), Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Cranford,” Ray Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles,” Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio”… (Hmm — two authors named Elizabeth there! 🙂 )

    Liked by 6 people

  2. Thank you LIz for sharing your wisdom. You are right that writing is not an exact science it takes much sweat/effort to birth things in the right way. I appreciate your sharing your tenacity and drive…and your faith that the story had “life” in some form. Congratulations on your publication to Sunspot Literary Journal. 😊

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much for reading the story, Robert! I wrote the first version of the story in the 1990s, when I was still in my thirties. Revising the story thirty years later prompted me to wonder the same thing.

      Like

  3. Hi Liz I think you’ve done very well. I pulled a ‘failed’ story out and rewrote it to be the focal point for my poetry, prose and photography book Mr. Sagittarius. It’s always good to keep stories and see where you can go with them. I’m very fond of that little book. That was the right place for that particular story. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, Marje. It’s so fascinating how coming back to a “failed” story after a long period of time reveals its true potential. I keep thinking there should be some way of speeding up or circumventing the process–but there isn’t!

      Like

  4. Congratulations on this publication. If the other stories are all like this one I am not surprised they have been published. A life and a marriage over time with a twist at the end. You have possibly realised that we are having to sell Mum’s house to pay for her care. After almost two years we have just received an offer.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Congratulations, Liz. Such a haunting, sad story, and so interesting that it is based on your relative.
    The loss of privacy and the indignities that go with aging–well, I saw that with my mom, who had been so independent.

    Seeing the info about Coolidge, I remembered that I heard someone talk about what a good writer he was, and found the interview: https://www.npr.org/2020/02/11/804750343/can-a-presidential-memoir-really-give-an-honest-picture

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you, Merril. I appreciate your reading the story and sharing your thoughts. I saw the same indignities with my mother in her final illness, and it broke my heart.

      Thank you for sharing the link to the Collidge interview. It prompted me to check Internet Archive for his autobiography. Sure enough, I found a copy, so I’ve saved it to read later. My husband and I travel over to Plymouth, Vermont about once a year to see what’s new at the Coolidge Museum and just take in the beauty of the location. It’s become one of my favorite places.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You’re very welcome, Liz. I will have to check out the autobiography at some point, as well.
        Something else about your story–my younger daughter and her husband started to fall in love when they were in their college production of Streetcar. She was Blanche and he was Stanley. The professor who directed them officiated at their wedding.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. A poignant short story, Liz. You have captured the angst of transitions so well and the responses that come when there is a parting, not only with husband and past life – but with self. I love reading your stories. Congratulations!!!!!

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Congrats, Liz, on all your publications and on making stories out of your novels. Have you ever heard the quote from Ted Hughes about Plath on using her material? “To my knowledge, [Plath] never scrapped any of her poetic efforts. With one or two exceptions, she brought every piece she worked on to some final form acceptable to her, rejecting at most the odd verse, or a false head or a false tail. Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity.” I love that quote.
    So I am tucking your story away in my to-dos because I can’t read it right now. But YAY!!!!!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Luanne! No, I hadn’t read the Ted Hughes quote about Plath’s approach to her poetry. Thank you for sharing it. I’d say I’ve made a few toys in my time–but more suitable for playing with by myself than sharing with others! I hope you enjoy the story.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I love your writing, Liz – rich description…how setting plays a character. You have really captured the crux of age, the struggle for independence, the resistance to change. Wonderful story and reassuring that ‘failed’ projects still have life.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Sometimes a character will wander into your work and completely change your every good intention and take you on a more interesting journey. So I wouldn’t consider it a failed novel… more like a very successful turn of events. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you sharing your perspective, Steven. I’m experiencing something similar with the novel I recently started working on. One of the characters just took over as protagonist, leaving my protagonist curled up in the fetal position in bed on the third floor. Hey, wait a minute, how did that happen?!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Right? I planned a big, sprawling novel about a strange motel, and one character sat down and insisted he tell me his life story. And that’s what I’ve been working on for over two years. The motel still shows up in smaller stories. I think what we do is listen. And that’s truly cool. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Diana. The scenes from the novel that ended up being short stories were inspired by family photographs. They didn’t advance the overall plot, and I did need to do a fair amount of revision to make them work as stand-alone stories. Say Say was a fascinating woman. She and her husband were the shining stars in our family. They were theatre arts faculty at Dartmouth and world travelers.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I think you did a marvelous job turning this period of Say Say’s life into story. The moment she wakes up and thinks for a bit that she is still a young woman. Love the comparison of the Realtor to a cat bringing in a dead mouse. I can really see a parallel to how my life might go when dealing with aging in this rural property. Wonderful prose, so full of scene and sense. Congratulations on making the most of your “failed” novel, Liz.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. It’s not been all that long since I’ve had the pleasure of your interest in my humble reflections, and exchanging comments etc. and if memory serves, this started thru our mutual connection to dear friend Rebecca. All this to say that very shortly thereafter a few exchanges I felt we had a way of looking at issues in a somewhat like manner, a rather pleasing discovery. That aspect sort of got confirmed when finding about your so-called failed novels, seeing I’ve had two books started for sometime and so far have failed to go any further, whereas you have succeeded with one, and to that I say Bravo, my Liz…
    Your “Leaving the Farm” is just fabulous, and the sepia pictures accompanying your story are a touching reminder to me of my own parents whose era is of the same approx period, with my mother leaving the Huntington Quebec farm, for my city born father of Montreal. Thank you ever so much for sharing these memories.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for reading “Leaving the Farm,” Jean-Jacques, and your thoughtful comments. When I was in elementary school in the 1960s, my dad was pastor at three churches: one in Colebrook, NH, one in Canaan, VT, and one in Hereford, Quebec.I remember going to church functions in Hereford. Such a pretty little church inside, all wood, like a ship’s cabin.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I love this! With my crafting head on, it reminds me of making quilts from worn-out shirts, or re-purposing scraps of artwork into something far more magnificent than the original. “Often when you think you are at the end of something, you are at the beginning of something else.” – Fred Rogers 😀

    Liked by 6 people

    1. Thank you, Liz! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Your comments remind me of how good my mother and my grandmother were are repurposing garments for the family. My mother once dyed an old Army blanket purple (my favorite color at the time) and made me a pair of pants out of it.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Liz, great that these stories have seen the light of day. I truly hope you go on to do more collections. There is magic in the vignettes. ❤ The pictures of Saysay are lovely, especially her Girl Scout one. It's the names that catch my heart 'Five Corners' & 'Potato Hill'. More magic. ❤

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Such a clever way to reignite a novel. I’m not sure how you could identify a ‘failed novel’. If you finished it, how did it fail? Maybe you had a goal of a million sales from a big publisher? That’s not failure. That’s adapted expectations!

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Liz,

    I don’t have an account to comment online, but I love reading these and look forward to a collection of stories from you—I, too, thought of Olive Strout.

    All the best,

    Barbara

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s good to see you, Barbara! I hope you and your family are doing well. I have a short story collection I’m currently shopping called Enosburg Stories. I just got a rejection from a small press today, in fact!

      Like

  16. Liz, thanks for the fascinating glimpse into your writing process and the journey your words have traveled! The photos are amazing, and I look forward to a slow read of “Leaving the Farm.” From what I’ve seen so far, I can tell it’s a well-told story that is both interesting and poignant. Kudos on your successful repurposing.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Such wonderful storytelling in “Leaving the Farm,” Liz! I loved hearing Maggie’s introspection and learning about her past. The end brought chills and a few tears, which I consider a success:) You portrayed such a wonderful sense of place on the farm, and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to leave, either.

    Your stories are widely published, and I’m interested to know more about your search process. Do you feel a master’s degree related to writing is needed to be published in a university press or other literary-type press? I have a short story for which I’ve received solid feedback from several critique groups. I’d love to find an “important” publication home for this piece. Any input you can offer would be much appreciated! Becky

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you so much, Becky! I appreciate your reading “Leaving the Farm” and sharing your reactions.

      I review calls for submission on a regular basis, so that I can keep the stories (and poems) circulating. To a certain extent, it’s largely a numbers game. That said, it’s easier than it used to be to get a feel for whether my work would be suitable for a particuarly literary magazine just by reviewing the magazine’s website.

      I’ve had good luck with weekly calls for submission from Submishmash: https://submittable.us14.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=29faa4e2bc171e46123a4867e&id=3cc7ac8d8a. Poets & Writers Classifieds are another good source of submission calls: https://www.pw.org/classifieds

      I hope this helps!

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Wow! That was great writing Liz, and I’m so glad you got all of those short stories out of the novel! Writing a novel can be challenging. My first attempt lasted 6 years. It was grueling and not salvageable. I still go back and read it though. It conjures up many memories of me writing in the library where I enjoyed people watching. I need to visit your blog more often! Good stuff. -Andy

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord Blog Magazine and commented:
    Liz Gauffreau started my morning with this fascinating post about her maternal grandfather’s first cousin. Also the news that a story based on the life of Sarah Emily Brown Schoenhut (1905-1999) or SaySay has been published in the Sunspot Literary Journal – you can read an excerpt about SaySay’s meeting with President Coolidge and there are some fabulous photographs.. #Recommended

    Liked by 2 people

  20. Thank you for sharing your route to getting your stories published, Liz. It is a lesson that everyone should learn from. Spending time reworking stories and having faith in yourself are a path to success.

    I enjoyed the image of President Coolidge” attacking his food like a ravenous child.” 😎

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Pete. The main lesson for me is that learning the craft takes time and patience, but with each new thing I write, I learn something more.

      That President Coolidge detail was pure serendipity, gleaned from browsing the books in the ODU library that were going to go into storage.

      Liked by 2 people

  21. I love the way you’ve written about your writing. It’s wry, inspiring and encouraging. I have three failed novels (none of them finished) and your very successful way of having dealt with the finished failed one makes me want to finish one of my own and see what can be made of its failure. Thanks for sharing. Beautiful and interesting photos, too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Andrea. After I’d attempted to go the literary agent route, I pretty much gave up on it. Years later, it finally dawned on me that literary agents are looking for commodities to sell, which isn’t what my writing is about, so I decided to give the book another chance. I’m glad I did!

      Liked by 2 people

  22. It’s a lovely story Liz and the way it came about is so salutary in the light of all my recent moans and groans about trying to get published. Totally echoing what the last comment says – far from a failed novel, perhaps it just needs restructuring and you’ve made a start with this.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank for reading the story, Jessica. I’m glad you enjoyed it. In regard to your moan and groan, yesterday I read a blog post that traditional publishing is pretty much in freefall with an outdated business model exacerbated by COVID. I don’t know how credible this person’s analysis/opinion is, but it does give one pause.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve heard that too, but it doesn’t give me any pleasure! partly because if everyone ended up self-publishing, that would make the market even more competitive i think. However, it may explain why they are SO cautious about never publishing anything that’s even ever so slightly “outside the box” – while still claiming to be looking for original writing. Ho hum…

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I think there has been so much upheaval in publishing that it doesn’t quite know where it wants to land. And writers are caught betwixt and between. It stikes me as being in a similar situation with higher education in the US, which has also been experiencing a great deal of upheaval and doesn’t quite know where it wants to land. I’m betwixt and between there, too.

          Liked by 1 person

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