Every once in a while I find myself writing a short story. It starts as a lark, a seed of an idea that suddenly sprouts and FOOM! there it is. I have a stable of characters I like to write about which allows for this sort of thing to happen, and they’re a lot of fun to write because the seem to come from that part of my brain that still remembers how writing is supposed to be fun. Supposed to be, as opposed to writing novel-length stories that require plotting and thinking about craft and a time commitment. I find these short stories, when they come, are over before my brain has finished sharpening the pencils and filling out the forms necessary for a larger undertaking.
Okay, so the story is done, and I read it over. They tend to be humorous stories, so I laugh, which is a good thing. Not laughing at my own jokes, but still liking what I’ve written enough to be amused. Then I frown. I’ve just written another humorous story with solid boy appeal and don’t have anything I can do with it.
And I’m left wondering: where do boys go to find stories?
I start thinking, What sort of stories are like the one I just wrote? The first thing that came to mind is the story Gordie tells in Stephen King’s novella The Body about the kid Lard Ass and the pie eating contest. It’s a revenge story, simply put like a campfire tale, and the type of story boys like. But suddenly it occurs to me that even the mighty Stephen King knows that the only way he’s going to get a story like that published is by including it within the context of another, more traditional story.
Because you just know there isn’t a magazine alive aimed at a kid audience that would touch that story with a ten foot pole.
Anthologies exist that cater to humorous boy stories – the Guys Read series of course, and the David Luber Campfire Weenies books – but when a boy is in the mood for some light reading (okay, let’s be honest, bathroom reading) where does he go?
Where did I go?
Eventually I ended up reading National Lampoon, which might not have been the best literature around, but it feed my hunger for funny stories. Occasionally, rarely, I would come across some humorous fiction in The New Yorker, but when it came to finding something short to read I was at a loss. There had to be something more sophisticated than Boy’s Life, less obnoxious than National Lampoon, and not as stiff as The New Yorker, but if there was, I couldn’t find it.
Last fall I was riding public transit and there were three high school boys talking. One of them was telling the other two about this “wicked, sick” story he’d read, and as he went on I realized he was recounting a story by George Saunders from the recent issue of The New Yorker. His friends were attentive, but I could see in their eyes that once they’d heard the story from their friend they wouldn’t hunt it down and read it. It might have been the story itself, or the way the boy told it, but what I think really dulled the fire in the listening-boy’s eyes was when the teller admitted where it came from. Unspoken in those looks was the fact that the story had come from a magazine lying around the house that his parents subscribed to. Very uncool. If he’d lied and said he read the story in FHM or Details it’d be a different story, but then the conversation would veer into fashion or the latest tech gadget or, most likely, the cover model.
Because I thought I was missing something obvious I went to the library to check out the various writer’s market books. One of them (which I won’t name) had a subject index in back and under ‘humor’ there were a couple dozen magazines listed. When I went to check them out almost without exception they stated ‘no juvenile’ in their listings; the exceptions, and there were four listings with this problem, explicitly stated ‘no humor’ which doesn’t speak so well of the copyediting or indexing skills for that title. Almost all of the juvie titles listed were for younger ages than I write for, whose idea of humor most decidedly wouldn’t include pranks, bodily functions, or subversive behavior.
I’ll keep looking for the perfect home for these stories, but I suspect they’re just going to collect over the years until I’ve published several other “real” books and a publisher is willing to humor me by putting out a collection. Perhaps this is one of those “if I won the lottery” situations where I say that if I had the money I’d start a new digital and in-print magazine of humor. Old school thinking, I know, but a boy can still dream, can’t he?