The short story is perhaps my favorite literary genre, the one I have spent the most time studying and writing. You can visit the Writing Resources page to see some of the technical insights I've gained about short stories and how they're written, but here you'll find the sources and results of those insights. Here are some of what I consider to be my better works, along with some reflections on what inspired them.Home | Student Briefing Page | Online Class Guide
On the night of May 7, 2004, 17-year-old Craig Grumet of Roslyn, NY was killed when the car he was driving was struck by a fuel truck on Old Westbury Road. I had known Craig since he was ten years old, when I was his Group Leader at Camp Pontiac in the summer of 1997, and was devastated by the loss; a few days later, I set up this web page to express my grief and give his many, many friends a place to express theirs. Cut to March of the following year, as one of my senior fiction writing classes was discussing ideas for our next project, and one student suggested, "a single parent who has lost their only child." I immediately thought of Craig, who was an only child, and was moved to pursue the idea. The motif the class ultimately settled on for the project was the concept of empathy, and the fact that people sometimes lack that quality, and as I often do I decided to write my own version of the story while the students wrote theirs. The events in this piece are entirely fictional; I don't know that anything like this actually happened after Craig died, but the grief messages in the piece are taken word-for-word from the Memorial Guestbook on the above-mentioned website.
This was the project idea the other class came up with, and which I also wrote along with the students. The idea here was a little more difficult to handle: The contrast between the expectation of sensitivity versus that of honesty in a situation where someone is being evaluated. This has always been of great concern to me as a teacher; the desire to protect the students' self-esteem at the expense of actual learning and meaningful, objective academic standards. It's gotten so bad that some students (and their parents) take anything other than unqualified praise as a grave personal insult, and as a result, educators have become reluctant to provide honest, objective assessments of student work, even lowering standards for the sake of "making the kids feel good." The piece uses a parallel structure to explore the issue; it's really not much of a story, but it does raise some interesting counterpoints.
This is a true story. The setting, context and the names of individuals have obviously been changed, but everything that happens happened, and everything that is said was said, word-for-word, to the best of my recollection; nothing has been embellished or exaggerated. Each character in the story represents a real person, while other terms and nomenclature substitute for specific real-life counterparts; those in the know will understand who represents whom, and what represents what. What I like most about this piece is not so much its Orwellian subversiveness, but that if the reader is NOT aware of its real meaning, the story still works as a satirical indictment of hyper-conservative thinking and ideology, as well as an earnest attempt to understand the psychology of a sociopath, a deeply sick, cruel and dangerous individual. (By the way, "geistesstörung" is German for "mental disorder.")
From Queens to Copake (2001)
During the summer, I work at a sleepaway camp in upstate New York, one of the best camps in the Northeast. The clientele at this particular camp consists mostly of absurdly wealthy Long Island kids; a stark contrast to the high school in Queens where I taught English from 1997-2001. I often wondered what it would be like if those worlds collided. I took that idea and combined it with something that actually happened in camp a few years ago, and came up with this story, though it took months of mulling the options to settle on the ending. I hope I chose the most effective one from among the seemingly countless possibilities. The names of the camp and some of its personalities have, of course, been changed and fictionalized for literary purposes.
Spring Concert (2000)
This is actually my third military-school story but the only one I have in online form; I'll have to transcribe the others one of these days. This is based on something that actually happened my senior year at New York Military Academy; I had just begun to learn to play the piano, and I had specifically learned and prepared one song, Billy Joel's "Goodnight Saigon," to play at the Spring Concert. Shortly before the event, however, the bandmaster suddenly and inexplicably changed his mind and decided not to let me play it; he felt it was too depressing a song for what he wanted to be a cheerful, upbeat concert. Since that was the only song I knew how to play, his decision precluded my playing anything at all. But I wondered, what if I had been an accomplished piano player at that time, as I am now, and been slated to play something else instead? What would I have done?
One time, I think it was in 8th grade, the dog actually ate my homework. I found myself in an unenviable position, faced with the cliché of clichés, the excuse of excuses, come true. What on earth, I wondered, will I tell my teacher? This story takes that predicament and reverses it, in a way. I hope I didn't give away the punch line.
Just the Times (1997)
Most people don't know this, but in the 1960's the City of New York tore down one of its most magnificent, and important, architectural monuments: the original Pennsylvania Station. Many years ago I was on the Amtrak concourse at the current Penn Station and saw the photos of the old terminal that they have hanging there, and found it hard to believe I was standing in the same building. Since then I have read about and studied the old station extensively, even touring the station with historian and writer Lorraine B. Diehl (click here to view her Penn Station website), searching for what was left of the original building and recording observations on audio and videotape. The result was this story.
Watch Me (1992)
In the summer of 1991, I ran across an article in People magazine about a woman who had lost her 12-year-old son in a freak skiing accident. There's nothing so tragic and profoundly saddening as the untimely death of a child, but it occurred to me that when things like this happen, we usually see it from the parents' point of view. It made me wonder, how would the kid's friends, his buddies, the guys he hung out with, deal with it? This story attempts to explore that question.
Bush-League Finish (1992)
As much as I love sports and sports stories, I find them difficult to write because they're so predictable and formulaic. A good sports story has to have interesting characters, and it can't rely on the outcome of a game as its only source of conflict. I was trying to write a humorous story here, and find an unusual ending for a baseball game.
A Young Man's Game (1988)
This is that unpublished novel I was telling you about. Click the link above for more information, and links to online chapters of the most recent revision. Maybe this year I'll find the time, the inclination and motivation to finish it.
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