This week I had two stories were rejected from two different journals.
In “Amy Runs,” the main character goes out for an early morning jog in a continuing effort to lose the weight she put on with her first child. The run is a renewal, a chance to recover from the frustrations she feels over what’s not going right in her life.
In the second story, “Yesterday, in Boston,”a runner is recovering from the Boston Marathon after the finish line was bombed. Though physically unharmed, the runner’s expectations of the event and the reality of the terrorist attack have her moving in a kind of post-traumatic daze.
But writers hate sports.
I’ve written stories featuring football games as settings and received comments that the game doesn’t seem to be important for the story. I’ve used sports metaphors and had them struck from final copy.
Maybe it’s because my first-ever paid writing gig was as a sports journalist and the working writers I know are all sports journalists, but I think writing about sports is cool. Better than talking about sports, playing sports, or watching sports, is writing about sports.
I once wrote a passage about a bull-riding event. The gyration of the animal, the stomping of the hooves, the arc of its thrusts, all provided the perfect back drop for the main character’s struggle with self-control.
In “The Sportswriter,” Richard Ford created one of the most complex literary characters of all time. Frank Bascombe, who reappears in “Independence Day,” and again in “The Lay of the Land,” studies athletes in the same way Ford studies language. He’s curious and purposeful about it.
Frank muses, “If sportswriting teaches you anything … it is that for your life to be worth anything, you must sooner or later face the possibility of terrible, searing regret.”
That Ford uses sportswriting to examine the struggles of middle age, the recognition of one’s prime and the failure to meet expectations, all fascinates me.
In my own work, it’s the physical act of exertion that pushes the characters to change. Or it’s the meaning of the accomplishment that changes the meaning of the resistance. Or it’s the event as a large-scale metaphor for the smaller personal crisis.
In “Unrequited,” my character watches her football team lose the national championship game and feels a sense of loss over a relationship that didn’t evolve. The metaphor is about desire and achievement and timing.
And yet, the trouble I’ve had getting these stories into journals makes me wonder if other writers are less enamored with sports than I am. Or maybe I’ve pinned the stakes of the stories on the sports as a kind of cheat? Let the sports do the heavy lifting and let my characters off the hook? Maybe the stories just aren’t ready yet.
I’ll bring them back into the huddle, make some adjustments, and see if I can’t score in the next round of submissions.