photo by Amanda MacKinnon
by Deborah McMenamy
Long ago I thought I wanted to write a novel.
I had a story in mind. I rearranged my office. I constructed a writing schedule. I sat and typed, sweated and deleted. Then, I distracted myself by making coffee and hanging out in the garden pulling the rapidly growing weeds from among the flowers. Not one of my favourite activities and most times I couldn’t tell the difference between the two but, anything was better than being ‘in that room’.
Then I sat again. This went on for months. One day, after a long session of sitting/typing/sweating/deleting, I realised that my problem wasn’t an inability to write, it was an inability to deal with so many words. Like my overgrown garden, the text had run amuck.
There was only one solution. Distract myself by pulling words instead of weeds and try to write something short. I did and it worked. I was smitten with this (for me) new form of writing. No chance to be brief and to the point escaped my attention. I wrote stories, articles, content for websites, started a blog and waxed bluntly lyrical in emails to friends. I shifted the novel into a folder marked ‘maybe someday’.
Maybe someday never came.
After a time, my first play was staged. My second. My first story was published. I was experimenting with film and verse on the blog and it was all going well. Then suddenly my father died, changing the direction of my life dramatically.
I had a little seed money left over from my work as an artist in schools. It wasn’t much but I calculated that with careful planning, I could start and hopefully grow a Small Press. I knew it had to be a press with a difference. Something personal and approachable with a print-only ethos, dedicated solely to short fiction. I thought a story competition would be a good way to start. The idea of accepting longer shorts also appealed to me.
The result, after countless months, tears, joys and frustrations, is Labello Press’s maiden anthology, Gem Street, The First Collection:2012 – containing an eclectic tumble of stories from a handful of previously published as well as first time International authors. The Leonard A. Koval Memorial Prize (which all contributors receive) is not only a tribute to my father and his unconventional life, but a way of honouring writers with the tenacity and guts to sit down and say it in 12,000 words or less.
Shifting focus from writer only to editor/publisher has broadened my mind. Everything I now read takes on an entirely different meaning. I can see a constant evolution, a kind of perpetual motion in the short form. When I read the classic work of Raymond Carver, Kafka and the ahead-of-her-time Katherine Mansfield, or contemporaries like Sheila Kohler and Anthony Doerr, my desire to examine and understand this compact, driven, form of expression intensifies. I want to learn more. Reading stories written by my own contemporaries, writers from all walks of life and backgrounds, I have a sense that while we may be quite different, our focus and dedication is the same and I realise why I had to attempt Labello Press.
Short fiction isn’t easy to master which is why I love the idea of working with other writers who brave it. Like all creative work, it requires vigorous constraint in order to be set free. It’s all quick, stealth communication. There is a certain delicateness needed, a light touch involved in a form in which each word must count, while some mustn’t count at all.
The challenge is in learning to sense and tell the difference and in pulling the right words.
Deborah McMenamy is the Managing Editor of Labello Press. Labello has a print-only ethos and is focused on maintaining a personalised and approachable attitude to publishing.