When I was attending the University of Minnesota, a friend of mine loaned me copies of two short story collections: “Like Life” by Lorrie Moore and “The Watch” by Rick Bass. I think I read both books on consecutive nights. I thought they were truly perfect – collections of small, brilliant gems – and I resolved that someday I would publish a short story collection of my own.
The road to transforming that resolution to reality was long and filled with curves. I started by taking fiction writing classes and was lucky to be placed in a seminar taught by Alexs Pate, now an award-winning novelist and playwright. I’m sure he has no recollection of me, but his class had a lasting impact. He was working on his first novel at the time, Losing Absalom, for which he received the Minnesota Book Award. Alexs was kind enough to share with us all of his excitement and frustrations about the editing and publishing process. He showed us that it could actually be done, a uniquely effective form of encouragement. It was during that class that I began working on the first stories that would eventually become “The Sense of Touch.”
I always had at least three jobs at the time. I was a part-time administrative assistant with Project Enhance, a community education program for adults with physical and mental challenges, and also taught classes for the organization. In the winter, I worked part-time at UPS, helping to deliver Christmas packages in the frozen Minneapolis suburbs. In the summers, I coached soccer and T-ball for the Minneapolis Parks Department. And for a couple of years, I was the evening desk attendant at the Blaisdell YMCA, about a block from where I lived on Pleasant Avenue in Uptown. My job was to check people in and hand out metal padlocks. While sitting at the desk, night upon night, I would take out the same red pen and edit the newest versions of my stories, reprinted every so often on old computer paper and kept in a black three-ring binder.
Eventually, I ended up going to law school and putting the stories away. But several years later, almost by chance, I remembered and picked them up again, discovered how poorly they were written, and resolved to make them better. And I started writing some new stories as well. Eventually, I gathered the courage to begin submitting them to literary reviews. After many rejections, a few acceptances began to trickle in. My first true success was placing “Hezekiah Number Three” in the Spring 2008 edition of The Gettysburg Review.
When I felt that I had enough good stories to try to publish a collection, I began submitting the manuscript to potential literary agents, most of whom politely recommended that I try contacting independent publishing houses directly. Almost randomly, I chose ten publishers, sent off the manuscript, and then forced myself to forget about it. It took almost a year, but the first publisher to respond was Aqueous Books with an offer to publish my debut collection.
I cannot begin to explain the moment of perfect satisfaction when I finally was able to hold the first copy of my book, so long in the making, in my hands. It transported me back to its moment of genesis in Minneapolis so long ago. It takes encouragement, hard work, persistence, time, a full measure of hope, and in my case quite a bit of luck, but I can assure you that it is possible to fulfill your dream of publication. And I encourage you to recognize and pursue your dreams, in whatever various shapes or forms they might arrive.
About the Author
RON PARSONS is a writer living in Sioux Falls. Born in Michigan and raised in South Dakota, he was inspired to begin writing fiction in Minneapolis while attending the University of Minnesota. His short stories have appeared in many literary magazines and venues, including The Gettysburg Review, Indiana Review, Storyville App, The Briar Cliff Review, Flyway, and The Onion. His debut collection of stories, THE SENSE OF TOUCH, was released by Aqueous Books in 2013.
You can visit his website at http://ronparsonswriter.com/ or http://www.aqueousbooks.com/author_pages/24_parsons.htm.
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About the Book:
Old friends uncomfortably reunited and lovers who cling to their distance from one another; disappearing fathers, fiercely loving grandfathers, and strangers who pass through and radically change lives...These are among the characters who populate the rugged Midwestern landscapes of the mesmerizing fiction world of Ron Parsons. In his debut collection, THE SENSE OF TOUCH (Aqueous Books; May 1, 2013), Parsons captures people of various ages in the act of searching for meaning and connection and themselves. Firmly set in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Michigan, the lush but often brutally cold heartland of America, the eight stories explore universal themes--loneliness, betrayal, transformation, hope--in fresh, sometimes fanciful, sometimes comical, sometimes jarring, and always moving and memorable ways.
In THE SENSE OF TOUCH, readers will meet:
* Naseem Sayem, the brilliant, troubled, and mystifying young man at the center of "Hezekiah Number Three." A native of Bangladesh abruptly transplanted to the stark white suburbs of Rapid City at age nine, Naseem never fit in and eventually moved on to study physics at MIT--where, shortly before graduation and after shocking news of his father's infidelity and abandonment, he apparently unraveled and vanished. Three months later, he reappeared out of the blue on his stepmom's doorstep, holding a three-legged cat. Naseem's long search for belonging reaches its apex in a hot air balloon floating over the Crazy Horse Monument.
* Waylon Baker, wheat farmer from birth, and Evie Lund, his wife of twenty-four years and counting, even though she had chosen to live far away--in the alien world of the Twin Cities--for eight years. The odd couple at the heart of "Beginning with Minneapolis," Waylon and Evie can't bear to live together or to divorce because they still love each other with a passion, reignited when they find themselves deep in the dirt, in a hole Waylon dug in his wheat field to serve as Evie's grave.
* The nameless narrator of "The Sense of Touch," a serious, young freshman at the University of Minnesota, fleeing yet still attached to his youth in Texas, haunted both by its predatory demons and its romantic dreams. His liberation comes through an alluring muse: his fiction-writing teacher. A ravishing, wild-haired, Memphis-born African-American graduate student, Vonda speaks directly to him when she makes her dramatic pronouncements. Like, "Our masks are not worn, people. They're grown, day by day." And "Never trust anything, not until you can touch it. With touch, you know you know."
The old friends in "The Black Hills," long separated by distance and tragedy, who unexpectedly compete for the affections of a lovely, vulnerable, and married Lakota woman...the young woman who, in the midst of a Halloween blizzard, stumbles into saving an elderly piano teacher's life and faces hard facts about her own snow-bound relationships and emotions in "As Her Heart Is Navigated"...the exceptional grandfather in "Big Blue" and the playboy reformed by someone else's grandson in "Moonlight Bowling"...and the professor of dead languages facing the mysteries of mortality in "Be Not Afraid of the Universe"... Through Ron Parsons, they all come to life, vividly and with emotional resonance, and work their way into the minds and hearts of readers.
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