Contributor Spotlight (+Free Story!): John Picard
The highlight of my two years in UNC-Greensboro’s MFA program was the workshop led by visiting writer Richard Bausch. He inspired the class with his practical advice and his obvious love of the written word. I was encouraged by this man who made himself into a writer by sheer will, who, despite having a wife and children and a full time job, despite not being gifted with the innate brilliance of a Hemingway, say, or an Updike, was unflagging in his determination to turn himself into an accomplished writer. Bausch’s workshop boiled down to one particular piece of advice: “Just show up every morning. Something will happen.”
I am not a young writer, but I remember the long apprenticeship process very well, a process that is longer for some than others. I did not start writing until I was twenty, and did not publish my first short story until I was thirty-two. It did not appear in the most prestigious of magazines; it was not much bigger than a pamphlet and had a circulation of perhaps two hundred. I was thrilled anyway. Almost everything I wrote during those dozen years wound up in the trash. And, to be honest, much of what has followed. Someone with more natural ability would not have taken so long to publish their first story, and would have published it in a better place. But we can’t all be geniuses. Most of us are Bausches, not Hemingways.
I did not start writing because I had fantasies of becoming famous. If I had, I would have quit decades ago. I did not start writing because some teacher or family member persuaded me to develop my gift. I had no special gift. I liked to read, my best subject was English, but I did not write better than anyone else I knew. I started writing because I needed to, whatever the reason, and still need to. During my apprenticeship, when I bought such upper tier literary magazines as Iowa Review, it was in hopes of learning something about craft and structure from the stories published there, not because I seriously imagined I might one day appear in its pages. (There is a lot to be said for low expectations.) That did happen eventually, but not for another twelve years.
It would be another twelve years after that before I published my first collection of short stories in a small press. It did not sell enough to garner a single royalty check, and I keep most of the fifty copies I was required to buy as part of the publishing contract in my bedroom closet. But I was proud of it. It had taken me forty years, but I’d done it. I had my book. Recently I had stories accepted by three upper tier magazines in one year. Before then I had never had more than one acceptance in a year, and regularly went two, three, and four between publications. I suspect my career--if I may call it that--peaked during that banner year.
I still sometimes dream of a story of mine appearing in Best American Stories, or writing a novel that becomes a best seller, or being nominated for a National Book Award. More than likely, though, none of those things will happen. Whether or not they do is irrelevant. They are not and never have been the point. The point is unchanged. The point is to show up.
“Something will happen.”
John Picard earned his MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He has published fiction and nonfiction in The Gettysburg Review, New England Review, Iowa Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Mid-American Review, Green Mountains Review, West Branch, and elsewhere. A collection of his stories, Little Lives, was published by Mint Hill Books.