“Just Les is Fine” (Short Story)

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I wrote the first draft of “Just Les is Fine” in 2007. I had just come home from a disastrous writer’s workshop and I did not want to go to another workshop, ever. But I had already signed up, paid and booked flights for one starting in a few weeks.

I don’t remember writing the story. I do remember printing it along with my boarding pass for my flight because I had only just decided that, yes, I would go. This workshop ended up being friendly and encouraging — a 180 from the previous experience. The other writers seemed to like the story, some loved it, and thought I should make a few changes and publish it right away.

I rewrote a lot of it (this is a thing of mine — I don’t revise early drafts, I take a sentence or a character and rewrite from there) and changed the title from “The Town Optometrist” to “Lazy Eye.” I submitted it to my MFA workshop and got positive feedback, but one comment stuck out: It reminds me of American Beauty.

So I put it in a drawer.

Six years later, after finishing my Master’s degree, having two kids and shelving a novel, I decided to dust off my short stories and give them another look. When I went into the Lazy Eye folder I saw a file that said Character Study. I remembered reading somewhere that Alice Munro writes character studies that can run 200 pages long per character. I looked at my character study, saw that it was all of five pages for the four main characters and laughed. Then I read the character study and knew I had to fit it into the story somehow. It was funny and different. Plus, it would be a way to separate my story from American Beauty.

Also during the six-year hibernation of this story, I had read “An Enormous Radio” by Cheever as well as Ethan Frome and Waiting for Godot, all of which influenced a new ending. After I completely reworked this version of the story, it again necessitated a new title: “Just Les is Fine.”

Important to note: “Just Les is Fine” is ~8000 words. That size limits submission options because not many places will accept a story this length and even ones who do often say it’s too long, despite being within their upper limits. If you look at Fiction’s guidelines, they say “staying under 5000 words is encouraged, but we will read manuscripts of any length.”

While I was submitting “Just Les is Fine,” I was sending out other stories, too. One was accepted by Atticus Review: “How to Hold it All in.” I went through my submission queue and withdrew it from other places that were reading it. One of those places was Fiction. I got a note back saying “How to Hold it All in” was being seriously considering for the magazine and that they’d like to see more work from me. I submitted “Just Les is Fine” and they accepted it two weeks later.

Final stats:

Story revisions: 25 (likely more, but unable to locate all the files after 9 years)

Time from first draft to publication: 9.5 years

Time from acceptance to publication: 14 months

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