Whenever I go to AWP, the huge annual writing conference, I come home with a stack of books and journals. When I read them, sometimes I think "What a cool journal! I'd like to get a story published there." Whiskey Island was one of those journals, so I was very pleased when they accepted my story "If I Feed It Quarters."
This story was another story inspired by a headline in the local newspaper, as I detailed in my blog post about my story "Abandoned Bees." The headline that inspired "If I Feed It Quarters" was "Car Fire at Car Wash." Hmm, I thought. How would that happen? Why? When I clicked through, I found the story less interesting than I'd imagined: the car was simply parked at the side of the car wash, and not in one of the bays. But I decided to write the story I first started imagining when I saw the headline: In the self-wash car wash stall, a fire burning in the night.
My mother has wild blackberries along her rural driveway. They grow in tangles, threading their way through other plants, seeking sun under the fir spires. While visiting, I ate a blackberry pie my mom baked, which was incredible—the berries, though tart, had a heady perfume and a concentrated blackberry flavor.
I decided to pick some berries so Mom could freeze them and make a pie for a future visitor. One morning I borrowed boots and a long-sleeved work shirt from my mother and headed out, carrying her "berry bucket," a souvenir from an Olympia Brewing tour our family took decades ago. I told her not to expect too much. The berries are tiny--the biggest no larger than my pinky fingertip. I told her to expect about two tablespoons.
I was pessimistic, not only because of the berries’ small size, but also because I hadn’t seen many ripe ones on the driveway earlier. “Look for the red ones,” Mom said. “Lift some leaves and you’ll find some ripe ones.”
When I got to her favorite berry patch, at first I saw only a few berries. I hunkered down to pick them and as I lifted the leaves away more ripe berries appeared, their deep purple hidden by leaf shadows. I picked, stooped or hunched, stepping into uneven ground with booted feet, working my way down the gravel driveway.
After a half hour of picking, I had picked over a cup of berries.
Lately I’ve been down about my writing. I’ve started sending my novel out to a few agents. So far, no one has leaped to represent me. I know intellectually that it’s a numbers game. I’ve only sent it to a handful of agents, while my friends tell stories of querying 50 or 100 agents before signing. I need to keep trying—only by sustained work will I see results. If I just work at it a little at a time, eventually my queries will add up. I can’t control the outcome, but I can control my effort, and I need to keep going. Keep picking, even if the berries aren’t easy to spot, even if the blackberry thorns prick and the mosquitoes bite.
When I returned to the house, I froze the berries after culling out the grass seeds. My mother will pick more berries, and eventually bake another pie when she has gathered enough. Wild blackberries are work, she says, but they taste so much better than the domesticated ones.
Ann Hillesland writes fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Bayou, The Laurel Review, and Sou’wester.
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