BIG announcements: First, we’ve officially launched our submission page! Starting February 1st, Story Unlikely will now be accepting short story submissions outside of our annual contest. We’re paying professional rates AND we’re accepting previously published stories, so yeah, it’s a big dealio. Click HERE for more info. Second, we’ve launched another page, Our Story, where you can get to know some of the good folk who help out around here and learn some totally irrelevant facts about their personal lives. Third, we’ve added a new feature to the monthly mailer. At the bottom of this email, there’s now a quaint little section titled ‘Editors Corner’, where, each month, one of our editors recommends a book. Sometimes, if we’re really feeling benevolent, we’ll even give away free copies. Plus, you can totally keep tally on whose picks you’re digging, and whose opinions kind of suck. Fourth, our short story contest submission period ended last month, and we're hard at work reading through each and every entry...or maybe we're yanking your chain and just procrastinating. Regardless, if you submitted, keep a sharp eye in the coming months, you never know when your story might be published next! And finally, next month we're announcing our MUST READ BOOK OF THE YEAR, and giving away 100 (you heard that right, 100!) kindle copies of this New York Times best seller! Seriously, who does that? (We do, so booyah)
A note on all issues prior to 2023
In 2023, we switched email sending services. Converting entire issues into our new sender and their formatting is a fair bit of work, and with our limited resources, we've decided to expedite the process by focusing on converting only the story and intro. Perhaps some day we'll get around to the rest of it, but for now, enjoy the story.
I totally defecated in a box. Here’s how it happened:
I regularly work with this guy named Levi who rehabs crappy old homes on the dreaded west end. If you’re not familiar with Davenport, think vintage prefabs all slapped together post WWII, now crumbling and decaying at the hands of their destitute offspring. To break up the monotony, abandoned industries and boarded-up fast-food joints are sprinkled amidst the residences, and for some reason it’s always cloudy over there.
Here’s a great example: while on another job, my apprentice Drew found a bunch of 9mm bullets scattered next to the garage, along with a few broken gun parts. Our theory is that some punk was being chased by the cops in a stolen vehicle (what we’re known for, hoo-rah), tossed his piece and came back later to retrieve it, you know, like a modern Captain Kidd. And what did my apprentice and I do with the remaining evidence? Drew may or may not have ran the leftover cache through his Glock 9, despite my warnings about jamming or misfiring – totally above board.
So anyway, we’re wiring up another dandy for Levi. Every rehab, the plumber comes in, demo’s the fixtures and doesn’t get the plumbing working until after we’re done. Translation – no working toilet while on site. No worries, as I’ve perfected the ol’ pee-in-a-cup-and-toss-it-into-the-grass technique. We get back from lunch, and the Hook and Ladder from Firehouse Subs is not sitting well. I’m standing in the road when it hits me, so strong that I have to place a hand on my truck to steady myself. I clench my cheeks together to grit through the moment, but I realize that this isn’t a ‘jump into the truck and head to the nearest gas station’ situation. Oh no. I’ve got maybe 30 seconds before my defenses break.
I move inside. Drew is downstairs, working on the electrical panel and oblivious to my predicament. I thank God that no other contractors are on site as I waddle up the stairs, make a quick search, desperately grab a cardboard box, move into the bathroom, and exercise the opening line of this story. I won't traumatize you with the results - the consistency or color, potency or smell, explosiveness or lack there-of. I will simply tell you that I did what I had to do, that I took a dump in a box. Don’t worry, I had a roll of paper towels on hand. Or did I? *insert scary music* (Kidding, I did.)
I walk outside, hoping to just toss the ensemble into the trash can and be done with it, but no. Ever the miser, Levi doesn’t order a city trash can until after the house is rented, and the aptly named dump trailer is already off-site, which leaves me standing in the alley holding a dump-in-a-box and contemplating off-loading it into one of the neighbor’s garbage cans. But the idea of someone catching me – can you imagine, what would you say in that moment, when the homeowner shouts from around the corner, “Hey, what did you just throw in my trash?” – is insurmountable. “I, uh, took a crap in a box, sir, and decided to place it in your trash can. I hope you can understand.”
Instead, I find a nice spot between a pile of cinderblocks and the detached garage, tuck the box discretely away and throw some leaves on top, figuring a little rain and weather and you’ll never know what happened – or at least, never suspect it was human.
So, what does this have to do with not quitting your day job?
Everyone here is a reader (duh), but a large chunk of our audience is made up of writers – to whom the following is directed (though the general wisdom applies to all):
There’s a lot of advice out there to writers and much of it I don’t subscribe to. For instance, when faced with ‘writer’s block’, the conventional wisdom is to ‘write through it’. That’s never worked for me. Sure, I can force myself to write, but what comes out belongs in a toilet – or at least a cardboard box - so what’s the point?
What I’ve found is that, when I don’t have anything to write about, it’s not that I need to sit down and figure it out, but rather, I need to go out and live my life.
I know an agent who never even considered taking on any writer under 40. Sure, he’s going to miss the occasional gem, but his thought was that most people on the younger half of the spectrum simply hadn’t lived enough life to write well, because the foundation of our writing is our life experience.
Which brings me back to exhibit B: why you shouldn’t quit your day job.
The silly little vignette about dropping a deuce is a direct result of my day job. A lot of my writing is, because our work is such an essential part of not just our lives, but of the human experience. Think about that – do you really want to read from someone who has nothing of substance to offer you?
John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors, but he made the mistake of listening to the conventional wisdom and tried ‘writing through’ his writer’s block. This led to an alcohol addiction, to a point where he couldn’t write without it, and his prose suffered immensely at the end of his career. He took a trip around the US to get something to write about, and out of it came a boring yarn not at all worth reading (Travels with Charlie). And the novel before that (The Winter of our Discontent), was utterly unreadable.
Aspiring authors are lovestruck by the idea of becoming a full-time writer. Back in my late teens and early 20’s, so was I. The thought of sipping coffee (or Monster) from the comforts of our computer chair, watching the sun rise and typing away – doing what we love – isn’t just complete nonsense, it’s narcissistic self-destruction. I realized, as I grew older, that what I longed for wasn’t born out of this idea of becoming the best writer I could be, but simply a lazy, self-serving get-out-of-jail free card; an escape from hard work. In other words, it wasn’t my career that needed to change.
It was me.
I’m at a point now (and have been for many years) where I genuinely enjoy my job. It’s still hard work, and there’s a lot of crap I have to deal with (and not just in boxes, hah!), but its good, and not only does it fuel my writing, it makes me a better writer. Think about those industrial authors who crank out several books a year. Have you ever read them? Despite their sales and audience - the pitiable zombies who consistently return to the feeding trough - they’re not worth reading. These authors [who do what they love!!!(and will tell you it ain’t so lovely)] are merely cogs in a financial machine. They’re not about writing good stories – they’re about making money.
So, for those who to whom this applies, why do you write?
Is it because you have stories to tell? Perhaps an unexplainable desire to create something from nothing? Maybe you have experiences to share, or people to honor? It could be to simply better communicate, or hone and perfect a craft. Or is it a consuming, lethargic lust to shrug off the burden of your daily grind and free yourself to live a life of comfort and ease?
It's almost comical how authors are inundated with how 'every story needs conflict', yet we somehow assume we can reach our fullest potential, as human beings, in relative peace. As iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another. Have you ever used a grinding wheel? Sparks fly. We were made for conflict; or at least, conflict was made to refine us.
So again I ask, why do you write? Because of the long-shot hope of fame and fortune, or simply for the love of the game?
The answer to that matters, especially when you consider that, believe it or not, some of the best writers I’ve ever read are people of whom you’ve never heard.
About the Author Danny Hankner began penning stories about himself and his idiot friends as a teenager. Now, masquerading as an adult, he lives in Davenport, Iowa with his wife and three children, working as a master electrician for his own company. In his spare time, Dan rides and builds mountain bike trails, scrapes infinitely spawning cat hurl off the basement floor, and runs Story Unlikely, an award-winning literary magazine where he floats around self-important titles like 'Editor-in-chief'. His work has besmirched the good reputations of Downstate Story, SQ Mag, Tenth Muse, and many more unfortunate publishers, as well as being awarded semi-finalist in Writers of the Future.
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