Concerning Craft: Caryn Coyle

The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.

Please meet Caryn Coyle, a writer for the Websites CBS Baltimore and Welcome to Baltimore, Hon! Her pieces have appeared in ScribbleMidway Journal, Gargoyle, Loch Raven ReviewThe Journal, JMWW, PrefaceSmile Hon, You’re in Baltimore and Baltimore Fishbowl as well as the anthology City Sages: Baltimore. She’s the winner of the 2009 Maryland Writers’ Association Short Works Fiction Contest.

Here’s Caryn reading her short story “Ballerina” at the launch of our Summer 2011 “Make Believe” issue:

 

And here’s what she has shared about the writing of that story:

I write what I fear. It is important to me that my work resonate with readers. A talented and valued mentor once told me that if I can make the reader cringe even one tenth as much as I did, I will have succeeded.

Authors I admire transport me from their pages with experiences I recognize. I believe everyone carries burdens. I am intrigued when a writer shares his pain to reveal hidden truths and craft in a way that appeals to the reader. It takes patience, solitude and, in my case, many, many revisions. “Ballerina” underwent 33 drafts before I submitted it to the Little Patuxent Review.

I am a compulsive editor of my work. I write in longhand before I type it. I don’t compose on the keyboard. Each manuscript is printed out and I go over it with a red pen, adding, changing and deleting. Then I type it up, print it out and go over it again. I read my work out loud to hear how it sounds. And I continue to edit in red ink until the pages are clean. Just black type on white paper.

“Ballerina” is about an accident that happened on the snowy street near my childhood home in Massachusetts. The incident scars both mother and daughter. Its impact is one of shock. Extraordinary moments appeal to me and I am compelled to explore the feelings that they produce in my writing.

I could not write what I feared when I first attempted fiction thirty years ago. I was so defeated by the rejections of my stories that I quit. But then a one-act play I had written in graduate school was produced. My classmates acted it out on a small stage before an invited audience of our friends. After the curtain fell, I appeared on stage to answer questions. A woman asked me if I had been spying on her life. She said that my play had depicted exactly what she was going through.

That comment stayed with me, but I had no confidence in my abilities. Rejection is difficult. Decades later, I was offered help and encouragement and started to write again. I could not have written “Ballerina” otherwise. I believe that we are all connected and that our stories deserve to be shared.

Caryn’s essay raises an important question: how can we create literature and art that make others “cringe”? Not only for effect but also for recognition, understanding and change. At a time when all manner of media bombard us with all sorts of horrors, what elements of craft can we call up to break through the resulting wall of indifference?

If you have ideas on what might work or specific examples of how this has been done successfully, please leave a comment below. If you are interested in contributing to a more exhaustive examination, let me know that too. I’m planning to write an article on this topic in connection with our upcoming Social Justice issue.

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About Ilse Munro

Ilse Munro was born in Latvia and came to the United States as a war refugee. She was a NASA and Defense Department consultant, the online editor at Little Patuxent Review and now serves as the fiction editor at BrickHouse Books. Her short fiction, collected in Cold and Hungry and Far From Home, appears in TriQuarterly, Atticus Review and Wake and made her a finalist in the Glimmer Train Family Matters Contest and Short Story Award for New Writers. Her novel, Anna Noon, is in the works. She lives in a historic millworker’s house in Maryland. For more, see http://ilsemunro.com.
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