JRWC13

The annual James River Writers Conference is becoming one of the best weekend conferences around. This was its second year in the Greater Richmond Convention Center and as a part of the Library of Virginia’s literary week celebrations. The conference has grown to accommodate the larger space and the uplift in prestige. This year’s attendees came from all over Virginia and the several surrounding states but also from far western Canada and the U.K.

Like many other conferences I’ve attended, this year JRW classified its panels into tracks, so you could concentrate your attendance in specific areas: Exploring Genre, Getting Published, Improving Your Craft, The Life of a Story, and Promoting Your Book. I spent most of my time for the two days in the “Improving Your Craft” track, because, well, that’s why I’ve been conferencing and workshopping so much in the past year.

The conference started off with a plenary session on Saturday morning featuring poets Brad Parks and Gbari Allen Garrett. Gbari is an eighth-grader in Richmond and rocked the house with poetry which seemed to come from a wise, old man. He’s a rising star. Then, we had pep talks by three people from various aspects of the business, non-fiction writer Christopher McDougall (Born to Run), publisher Carey Albertine, and graphics designer Chip Kidd. Kidd gave a wonderful presentation on the evolution of a book’s cover.

After the Library of Virginia Literary luncheon, featuring the finalists for the Virginia Literary Awards, the panels started. My first one was “Suspense Across the Genres,” which offered techniques for heightening tension. The panelists were Philippa Ballantine (Geist), Christopher McDougall, children’s author Kevin O’Malley (Bruno, You’re Late for School), and Howard Owen (The Philadelphia Quarry). Ballentine writes epic fantasy and steampunk; McDougall is non-fiction; O’Malley writes children’s stories with an edge; and Owen is a mystery writer, so an excellent cross-section of how to imbue your writing with suspense. Each writer emphasized that one way to build suspense is to put characters in “hot-spots.” However, you have to develop that character to the point where he or she matters to the reader, so the reader cares about what happens to the character. An excellent discussion with many concrete examples.

Next was the panel featuring the Virginia Literary Award finalists for fiction, Gigi Amateau (Come August, Come Freedom), Clifford Garstang (What the Zhang Boys Know), Lydia Netzer (Shine, Shine, Shine), and Kevin Powers (The Yellow Birds). Because the questions to the panelists were about their writing process and what inspires them, this was truly a great primer on the craft of writing.

Sunday’s program started off with “First Pages.” Frankly, I always cringe at this type of session, where you submit the first page of your work to be publicly critiqued by a panel of agents and editors, and, in this case, suspense writer, David Robbins. The critique is gentle, and JRW did try to trip up the panel by inserting first pages from authors at the top of their genre, but I never take anything useful away from this, mainly because if you go to more than one of these over a year’s time–and I have–you’ll find the advice from one panel contradicts what another had to say.

“Issues in Personnel Management: All About Characters” was a panel where authors Philippa Ballentine and Lydia Netzer used standard management principles (motivating employees, setting goals, delegating responsibility, communications, and egalitarianism) to describe how the characters in their novels get developed and infuse themselves into the writing process. As a former manager of (way too many) employees, this was an interesting exercise in “managing” the characters in a novel and time well spent.

“Voice Lessons” with panelists Elizabeth Huergo (The Death of Fidel Perez), Lydia Netzer, and Virginia Pye (River of Dust) went beyond point of view to whose voice they used to tell their stories and why it’s important to pick the right voice or voices. The conclusion of the panel was that for a first-time novelist, stick to third-person limited, get that first novel published, then experiment with other voices (e.g., first person).

I went a bit “off track” to the publishing side and attended “What to Do Before You Query.” Agents Deborah Grosvenor, Beth Phelan, and Paige Wheeler covered what they liked to see in a query letter, what they didn’t like to see, and how to prep your manuscript to make an impression on an agent.

I skipped “Pitchapalooza” because I still don’t have the guts to subject myself to that, but I drove home with a lot of ideas rumbling through my head and heightened enthusiasm. JRW’s conference is a great place to meet up with writing friends, old and new, and to pick up tools to help with your writing. Not to mention, picking up quite a few more books for the “to be read” pile.

And congratulations to my writer friend Clifford Garstang, whose What the Zhang Boys Know won the Library of Virginia Literary Award for Fiction.

National Short Story Month

May is the traditional month for college graduations, high school proms, renewing your garden or flower beds, but it’s also the “national” month for several issues:  Speech and Hearing, Lupus, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), Skin Cancer, Asian Pacific Heritage, and many, many more. People involved with or affected by these issues use the month of May to increase awareness of the topic and raise money.

May is also National Short Story Month. Now, I’m not trying to equate short story awareness with, say ALS awareness, but a literate society is one that strives to conquer disease and acknowledge diversity. An appreciation of the short story, whether as a reader or writer of them, is an essential part of being literate, of having an education.

Many writers–especially those of us who count short stories among our skills–look upon short stories as rather the red-headed step-child of literature. That isn’t altogether inaccurate. The big-name, traditional publishers won’t touch a collection of short stories unless you’re an equally big-name writer. In the past decade or so, some writers have come up with unique ways of “disguising” short story collections–linked stories (Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennie Coughlin’s Thrown Out, and my own Blood Vengeanceor a novel in stories (Molly Ringwald’s When It Happens to You, Clifford Garstang’s What the Zhang Boys Know, and, to a certain extent, my book, Spy Flash.)

Those alternative approaches have had some success in getting the short story before the reading public. Small presses, like Press 53 in North Carolina, are more amenable to the publication of short stories, as are university presses, but short stories are almost a niche market.

In the past, short stories (which some believe have their origins in The Canterbury Tales, perhaps the first collection of linked short stories) were the venerated form of fiction, and in the short story’s glory days, hundred of literary and mainstream magazines featured short works. The novel was considered crass pulp fiction, and the short story was considered an art. Such noted writers as Kurt Vonnegut struggled to get his short stories published and often considered himself a failure for it, even as his novels assured his success and literary acceptance. As the novel reached its ascendence in the twentieth century, short stories survived in but a few literary magazines and the venerated New Yorker. Genre short stories–horror, science fiction, thrillers, crime–continued to flourish in limited markets. There are some, usually genre fans, of which I’m one, who believe it was genre short stories that saved the short story as a literary niche.

Interestingly enough, short stories have enjoyed a revival of sorts with the advent of the ebook reader. When you’re looking for something to read on your work commute, a short story is ideal. A short story is something you can begin and finish easily in a single sitting. When I used to commute to work, I’d often be frustrated that I’d reach just the most critical point in a novel when my stop came up. And, yes, there were occasions where I missed my stop because of that. Short stories are ideal for the eReader, either as collections or as singles.

What is the attraction of short stories? Why do those of us who call ourselves novelists indulge in the production of shorter work? Well, sometimes you don’t need 50,000-plus words to tell a story. Sometimes you can do it in 5,000, 3,000, or, with the advent of flash fiction, in less than 1,000 words. Some of us can manage a story in 100 words, and Hemingway once told a rich, poignant story in six words: “For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”

Though I consider myself a novelist, my only published work has been short stories, either in literary magazines or in my own collections. I write two to three short stories a week, usually flash fiction mainly as an exercise for my longer fiction. Face it, when you have to hone and cut words to meet an arbitrary word limit and still tell a complete story, that’s absolutely translatable to a novel-length work. In my year-long edit of a series of four books I’ve been working on, I managed to trim well over 100 pages, which didn’t need to be there in the first place. Had I not been practicing my short story skills under those word limits, I’m convinced that wouldn’t have happened, to the detriment of the work.

So, help out a short story writer in May. Buy a single, or, better yet, buy a collection of short stories and savor them. I happen to have three such collections available. Just scroll down the righthand column. A click on the book’s cover will take you to where you can purchase them. Don’t think of it as enriching me (because, really, it doesn’t pay me that much). Think of it as assuring the continuation of an essential form of fiction–the short story.

For an interesting article on the history of the short story, click here.

#VaBook – Gone but Not Forgotten

Virginia Festival of the Book is aptly named, but after this, my third year of attendance, I think it more apt to title it “Virginia Festival of the Book–and Writers and Readers.” Though considerably less populated than the 12,000-person AWP Conference just two weeks before, the enthusiasm about books and their authors was just as intense. In truth, you don’t get many “readers” at AWP, but #VaBook (its Twitter hashtag) is the rare opportunity for writers and readers to mingle. In some cases, you’re a writer for one panel’s presentation then a reader for another. It’s a great showcase for writers across the country who have or whose books have Virginia roots.

My festival started on Wednesday evening with “The Ties That Bind: Family in Fiction.” Authors Wendy Shang, Lydia Netzer, Camisha Jones, Mollie Cox Bryant, and Cliff Garstang combined a discussion of this year’s The Big Read book, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, with their own works. I read that book before it was a best-seller on the recommendation of a co-worker, who is Asian and said it was as if Tan had written the friend’s biography. I found it a fascinating glimpse into a culture I knew little about, but the sometimes bizarre behavior of mothers was something I completely understood. The authors on the panel compared and contrasted how Tan used family to their use of family in their own works.

Thursday’s only session for me was “Fiction: The Art and Craft of Short Stories,” which I wanted to attend because I keep trying to convince myself there’s a future for short stories (why I’ve published three volumes of them). The panel members–Robert Day, Cliff Garstang, E. J. Levy, and Kurt Rheinheimer–are convinced the short story is undergoing a revival. Their various definitions of a short story were compelling:

“A short story is a piece of geography that spawns a character.” (Rheinheimer)

“A short story is a bomb going off.” (Levy)

“A short story focuses on a moment in time with a zoom lens.” (Garstang)

“A short story is a piece of prose fiction that has something wrong with it.” (Day)

The latter was intended to show that even short stories are never finished in the sense of revision and rewriting. The panel went on to discuss the writers who influenced them, the how and why of linked short stories, first person versus third person, and if an MFA helps your progression as a writer.

Friday was a full day for me, beginning with “Fiction: Forbidden Attraction.” Authors Maryanne O’Hara, Erika Robuck, Margaret Wrinkle, and Bill Roorbach discussed how they used captivation in each of their novels or were captivated themselves by the subjects they wrote about. In Robuck’s case, a photo of a young, Cuban girl on a dock where Hemingway hauled in his fishing catch prompted her to write Hemingway’s Girl. For Wrinkle, it was literal captivation–a novel about the taboo topic of slave breeding in the ante-bellum south. A wonderful discussion and great insights.

Next was “Fiction: Parallel Stories,” featuring authors whose novels involved two different but related timelines. I particularly wanted to attend this panel because a novel I have in rough draft involves stories in the present and in the World War II era. Dana Sachs, Tara Conklin, and Sarah McCoy discussed what compelled them to construct their works this way and the joy–and pitfalls–of research.

“Fiction: Journeys” was a panel on novels featuring road trips or metaphorical journeys by Sharon Short, Sheri Reynolds, Kathleen McCleary, and Kimberly Brock. They discussed the apparently insignificant germs of thought that inspired them, and the chemistry among these authors during discussion was fascinating and hilarious.

Unfortunately, I had to miss two other panels on Friday (“Science Fiction and Fantasy,” featuring the phenom Hugh Howey of Wool fame, and “Crime Wave: Friday Night Thrillers”) because I needed to go home and pack for an unexpected trip to Northern Virginia for a funeral. That also meant Saturday’s panels and the Book Fair I missed as well, but friendship supersedes all.

I was back Sunday in time for the only panel on which I was actually a participant–”The Magic of Words,” which was the launch event for the Blue Ridge Writers 2013 Anthology. My story, “Mourning,” appears in the anthology. Rita Mae Brown was the keynote speaker, and she gave an amazing off-the-cuff, quarter-hour dissertation on language. Fascinating. Then came the time for readings. I was fourth on the schedule, so enough time to work up a good set of nerves. Fortunately, Brown had been amusing as well instructive, so when I got a laugh out of her at the first comedic point in my reading, I relaxed. After the event, Brown came up to me and said, “Please tell me you’ll continue to write.” Yeah, floated a few inches above the ground all the way home.

I came away with a lot of good information and way too many books. Add them to the stack I brought home from AWP, and I’ll still be reading them by the end of the year. But that’s a good thing.

I can’t wait for #VaBook14! And who knows, maybe there’s a panel out there with my name on it!

Navigating Your 2012 Writing Life

The Virginia Writers Club held its second annual writing conference on August 4 in Charlottesville, VA, and the aptly named conference (see the post title above) was a lot of opportunity packed into one day.

Just a little aside here. I’m ever-so-grateful that my commonwealth, Virginia, which occasionally makes me SMH over its backwardness, invested taxpayer money in our community college system. It’s second to none, in my opinion, in the nation. The VWC conference was held on the campus of Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville in the Dickinson Fine and Performing Arts Center. As writers we know setting is important, but it’s also conducive to learning to be in a comfortable, modern building surrounded by an appealing, well-maintained campus. Thank you, Virginia. ‘Nuff said.

Subtitled “A Symposium for Writers of All Ages and All Stages,” the conference had two morning sessions, one afternoon session, and a keynote speaker to end the day. After the keynote, several authors who had served as panelists or presenters had a book sale and signing. From each session you could choose from three presentations. Here is what the conference offered:

1000 – 1045:

Show AND Tell – Presented by Cliff Garstang
Writing Mysteries – Presented by Alan Orloff
Contemporary Women Poets – Presented by Sara Robinson

1100 – 1145:

From Page to Screen: Turning your Book into a Movie – Presented by John Gilstrap
Charming the Gatekeeper: How to Land that Perfect Agent and Why You Will Need To – Presented by Brad Parks
Why We Chose E-Book Publishing – Brooke McGlothlin, Bill Blume, and Wayne L. White

1300 – 1345:

Publication’s First Heartbeat: Critique Groups – Presented by Tracy S. Dietz
A Way With Words: Hook Your Reader with the First 100 Words – Presented by Lauvonda Lynn Young and Linda Levokove
eBook Marketing: Strategies and More – Presented by Mary Montague Sikes

Keynote Speaker: Charles J. Shields

As you can see, quite a packed agenda for a single-day conference. I sorely wished I could defy physics and be in more than one place at a time. I started the morning with Garstang’s “Show AND Tell,” the premise of which is that the creative writing course maxim “show, don’t tell” isn’t quite right. I won’t go into much detail here because Garstang covered the presentation in one of his own blog posts, which you can see by clicking here. Of the three presentations I attended this was far and away the best, and I say that not because Cliff is a writer friend; but because he’s an incredibly good instructor.

Next I went to “Why We Chose E-Book Publishing,” the title of which shows there’s still confusion about the difference between e-book publishing and self-publishing. Not all e-books are self-published and vice versa, but this was a good insight into why three people who write different things opted to publish electronically. For Bill Blume, the choice was obvious: he publishes a comic. E-publishing is the perfect medium for graphic novels, animation, and comic strips. Brooke McGlothlin had already established a large following on her blog about being the mother of boys and heeded her fans’ call to assemble her posts into a book that might reach others. I must say her record is impressive–three book, 8,000 sales. She did, however and much to my gratitude, stress the importance of hiring people to do the things you don’t have a talent for, e.g., creating a cover, editing and proofreading. Wayne White had retired and wanted to participate in something other than the “honey-do” list his wife had made throughout their marriage. He’d been told he was a good story-teller, so he began to write, tried the agent route, got frustrated, and opted for Kindle Publishing.

In all, they covered the typical reasons why someone opts for self-publishing, including writing in a genre or a mash-up that’s not easily classifiable and the fact that traditional publishing is difficult for a new author to crack.

eBook Marketing focused heavily on social media, including several aspects I’d either never heard of (Triberr) or never looked into (Digg). There were some great tips on how to use your web site and blog to highlight your work–some of which I went home and put into place–and how to connect what you write to a specific kind of art work, which you can then use for drawing attention to your books. The presenter, Mary Montague Sikes, is writing a romance/thriller series about archeology in some fictional Mayan ruins, so she uses her personal collection of Mayan art as a marketing tool. And you got a free book, Published! Now $ell It! A “How to” Book, as well as a handout of links you can use for developing marketing materials.

As for the keynote speaker, Charles J. Shields, I’ve gushed about him before as the biographer of Harper Lee and Kurt Vonnegut, but he gave an inspiring talk about how he walked away from a teaching career to become a writer/biographer. His key point was when you tell people you’re a writer, don’t qualify it. You’re a writer; be a writer. Shields took questions from the audience, and when I asked who would be the subject of his next biography, Shields indicated he was now trying his hand at fiction. He’s an incredibly thorough biographer, so that was disappointing news in a way (He’d been thinking about taking on Maurice Sendak next.), but Shields’ fiction is something I’m definitely looking forward to reading.

It’s always a great day when you spend it among writer types, and I’ll certainly sign up to navigate my writing life next year.

Settings

One of the things you learn in any fiction writing class is the importance of setting–a reader needs to be able to “see” where you’ve located your story. Sometimes writers can focus on the plot and the characters to the exclusion of setting. Sometimes setting can be just as important as memorable characters or a finely detailed plot.

When your work is a novel, unless it stays in one place for the length of it–like Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians or Murder on the Orient Express–you have to do some research if you’ve never been there. That’s a key component of the writing, because a reader might have been there and can spot the errors.

When John Updike got the idea for The Witches of Eastwick he had the perfect small town in mind–Wickford, RI. However, when he went to the town to research and people got wind of the plot–three witches in the 1970′s who take petty, and not so petty, revenge on neighbors–they threatened law suits if he used the name of the town. Updike let them think they won. The book’s title is The Witches of Eastwick, but if you read the description of Eastwick in the first few pages you recognize Wickford right away. And it was the perfect setting for this quirky novel about the devil coming to earth. (What would have been the difference had the Wickfordians not been such typical New England prigs? Maybe it would have been a tourist destination–it’s a quintessential New England town–instead of a town you drive through to get to the Newport beaches.)

I grew up in a rural area near a small town, so those are settings I’m comfortable with. I can tell from a story if someone has only seen a picture of a farm or gone to one. I spent a lot of my life in a large urban area and worked in the Nation’s Capital for the most part. I’ve spent a great deal of time in New York City, so I get the urban setting and am also comfortable setting a story in busy cities. I also like the juxtaposition of city and country–it’s something that’s never quite been overcome by urbanization.

I’ve done some world travel–a modest amount–to England, Scotland, and other places in Europe. I can insert any place I’ve visited in a story with ease. Some of my work is based in Eastern Europe, and that’s an issue. I’ve never been there, and, frankly, unless you’re a high-paid, commercial novelist, extensive travel to research your settings can be beyond the budget.

Atlases can give you maps and facts and figures–all good, of course–but Google Earth can put you there. Its “Street Views” options can put you in the city or town or countryside you want to write about. It’s still not as good as being there, but it can give you a starting point. The next point is finding someone familiar with the area to give you the personal touch or cultural memes for a setting. I had a friend who had traveled extensively with USAID, and he was always able to give me a good read-over for settings.

Some writers overcome the setting issues by creating completely fictional ones. Whether in fantasy, other genre, or literary fiction, that can eliminate any setting errors or hard feelings from the locals. For his collection of linked short stories, In an Uncharted Country, Clifford Garstang created Rugglesville, VA. For her first book of linked short stories, Thrown Out,  and an upcoming series of novels, Jennie Coughlin created Exeter, MA. Both constructs are real; you can “see” yourself in either place. They feel real. Even in fantasy or science fiction, if you create your own world, people still have to be able to “walk” through it. It’s not enough to say “we’re on a spaceship” or “we’re in a fairy land.” The writer has to give the setting depth.

Which do you prefer–setting your work in known locales, or do you create your own world?

I ♥ My Writers Group!

I’ve written before about my great writers group–SWAG, Staunton/Waynesboro/Augusta Group of Writers–about how supportive everyone is, and how I’ve made lifelong friends from being a part of it. Wednesday evening was our monthly social hour and open mic night. This was also the first meeting after we got a nice spread in the Living section of our local Sunday paper. We had a full house of readers and listeners–and lots of first-time-at-SWAG readers. It was probably the best night we’ve had with lots of thoughtful work and lots of laughs.

Why are open mic nights important? I’ll admit when SWAG’s founder, Cliff Garstang, suggested last year that we start doing readings–out loud, in front of people–I was nervous. That’s a tough thing to do, to stand up amid acquaintances and a few strangers and read what you’ve written. And that first time last April, my knees were shaking, and my throat was dry. Afterwards, I remember wishing I’d had a writers group ten years ago when my collection of short stories came out. I did three readings and book signings back then, without a clue as to what I was supposed to do, and the feedback I got was that I read too fast for people to understand what I was saying. At SWAG, I’ve learned to slow down and get across what it is I’m trying to say, and that’s an experience I wouldn’t have had without SWAG.

So, doing open mic readings among friends can help build your confidence for when you’re on that book tour you dream about being on one day.

The other good thing about open mic is you pay a good deal of attention to the exact piece you’re going to read. We get five minutes, so the passage has to be tight, succinct, which means, beforehand, you’ll do some needed editing and revising you might not normally do. That’s always a good thing.

And here’s the best part–it’s great when open mic is over and someone in the audience comes up to you and tells you he or she enjoyed what you read and begins to ask questions about your work. You feel like an honest-to-God writer when that happens. It’s great.

Building confidence, honing your editing skills, and boosting your writer ego–that’s what you get from a writers group. Find one. Join one.

National Short Story Month – The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Writers

I was pretty excited about National Short Story Month (May 1 – 31). Though I don’t consider short stories my first choice in writing (despite the fact my only published book is a collection of them), I read a lot of them. My intention for this past month was to pick 10 short stories meaningful to me and write about each. Because of a cold that knocked me for a serious loop, I only managed three—Harlan Ellison’s “A Boy and His Dog,” Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” and William Faulkner’s “Barn Burning.”

I’ve left you with the impression that I don’t read any modern short stories. Not true. I was working my way up to that before I got sick. Since I can’t cram seven more stories into a single post, I’ll do a quick list of stories and collections I recommend.

First, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Master of Horror, Stephen King, but the story I recommend is considered one of his “mainstream” works: “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.” (They shortened the title for the movie.) A marvelous character story and tribute to, well, redemption.

Agatha Christie, in addition to her many (many) novels, also wrote several collections of short stories involving her best-known characters. The ones I recommend revolve around Miss Marple. Though I always found Miss Marple a little grating on the nerves with her false modesty, any of Christie’s short stories with Miss Marple is a gem—the mystery presented, discussed, resolved so succinctly.

Kurt Vonnegut—I miss him every day—has had several collections of short stories as well. Pick any one of them up, and he will transport you—into the past, the future, someone else’s head, his head. You won’t be disappointed by any of them.

Not because he’s a writer friend of mine but because his collection is so evocative, I’ll include Cliff Garstang’s In an Uncharted Country. (I mention him after Vonnegut because he might not like being so close to King. ;-D ) This is a collection of linked short stories about people and life in a fictional town in the Shenandoah Valley. Cliff links the stories in interesting and provocative ways, and there’s not a disappointment in the bunch.

If you think Vladimir V. Nabokov and your next thought is only, Lolita, think again. He has a large collection of short stories (The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov) that will horrify, intrigue, sicken, delight, and amaze you. You begin to understand how seeing your father murdered in front of you creates an incredible writer.

Ray Bradbury’s “Beggar on the Dublin Bridge” has a hint of the fantasy Bradbury is famous for, but, mainly, it reminds you that opportunities lost can’t be recovered.

Be patient. I’m getting to the women in just a moment.

A literary e-magazine I subscribe to on my Kindle is One Story. Aptly named, it publishes a single story every three weeks. All the ones I’ve read have been excellent and by up and coming writers (which gives me hope I’ll be one some day), but “Filament” by K. L. Cook is a stand-out. If you don’t have or want a Kindle, you can purchase the stories individually as they’re published on the web site (click on the link).

So I don’t let my feminist sisters and brothers down, here are some stories by women writers I’d like to highlight. A lot of these are classics as well, and it’s not that I don’t like modern short stories. A lot of them just don’t give me the “kick in the gut” the “oldies but goodies” do. Oh, they are perfectly structured and punctuated, grammatically flawless, but many are so faultless, they move me only intellectually, not emotionally.

Sarah Orne Jewett – “A White Heron”

Willa Cather – “Paul’s Case”

Edith Wharton – “The Mission of Jane”

Edna Ferber – “The Afternoon of a Faun”

Dorothy Parker – “Big Blonde”

Eudora Welty – “Death of a Traveling Salesman”

Flannery O’Conner – “A Good Man is Hard to Find”

Joyce Carol Oates – “Where are You Going, Where Have You Been?”

Like Bradbury’s “Beggar on the Dublin Bridge,” there are a lot of missed opportunities here—darn that “three-week” cold—but there’s always next year.