This humble post is about a story and a song, neither of them mine.
Let’s start with the story. Back in 2009, when I began my first foray into real writing and couldn’t get published to save self-esteem, I’d do market research at all the top magazines. Not only did I want to know what kind of stories they were looking for, I wanted to see what successful writers put in their stories, maybe get a glimpse at their secret sauce. Eventually I ran across Sock Heroes over at Strange Horizons. The first paragraph is a mere two words and from reading those words I was instantly hooked. Unlike some characters who come with built in empathy–the plucky orphan, the hooker with a heart of gold, the starry eyed youth–the protagonist was one I couldn’t care less about BEFORE I read those two words. And just like that, I cared. The author M. Thomas skillfully built on that empathy and by the time I was done I was simply amazed. I realized in no uncertain terms you could write about ANYTHING and it will make for an awesome story, if done right.
Her story spoke to me, and I wanted more from her. Strange Horizons hosted another story called Beguiling Mona. I don’t have to sell you on how good it was; anyone familiar with my work can see how this story inspired me. Even hungrier now, and pretty much a fan at this point, I looked for more of her stuff.
And that’s where it all went dry. She had written from 2002 and stopped at 2006. By the time I had discovered her, a great many of the magazines and sites she had been published in were defunct. Googling M. Thomas is probably the worst Google search I’ve ever had to conduct. Thomas can be a first name, a middle name and a last name and M. is just M. I literally could put M. Thomas with the name of the story with the name of the publication it was in into Google and have to damn near scroll to the bottom of the page to find a hint at the right person and oftentimes that was the SFF database ISFDB and not her actual work.
I’ve never figured out what happened to M. Thomas. I don’t know if she just gave up on writing, if life got in the way, or if she’s no longer with us. I’d like to tell her that I learned much from her examples, especially with character development. Perhaps I’ll share those lessons with my fellow aspiring writers out there in a Creative Combat Arms section sometime in the future. Mostly, I’d like to thank her for enriching my life with her stories.
Her website never worked. It was ironically called www.found-things.com.
Let’s move on to the song. Much more recently, a couple months back, I stumbled across “The Last Laugh” on Netflix. Starring Richard Dreyfuss and Chevy Chase, it’s about an old comedian and his even older manager who decide to do one last comedy tour. So Chevy’s on a date with Andie MacDowell and they stop at a singer performing at a street corner. The song took over, this was at 53 minutes in, and it was bigger than the movie.
I’m ok with folk music and really not much for country… I think I can count on one hand the number of country songs I like and I’d still have enough fingers left to gouge some eyes in a bar fight. This song sat squarely in the middle of those two genres and it absolutely spoke to my soul.
I tried to Shazam it and it failed. I ran it back, played it again and Shazam failed again. And again. I waited for the end of the movie, got her name, Jessie Payo, from the credits, did some Googling and still couldn’t find her. And when I say Googling, I mean her name + fractions of song lyrics, maybe add the movie when that didn’t work, maybe change the lyrics to something else in case I misheard it with all that movie dialogue going on around it. Still nothing. In this day and age it’s like she wasn’t trying to be found or something!
Today I woke up, watched a show and afterwards decided I wanted to hear the song again. It still moved me and I realized why. It’s like a flash fiction story. The song encapsulates this brief span of time after you’ve gotten to know someone enough to be comfortable and trusting but before you and that other person are in a relationship and building it. It’s not about love but rather the journey of discovery towards something that could be love, something neither of you’ll know until you go on the journey. For me, it brings me square back to over twenty years ago, to warm Louisville summer nights and two people who both knew whatever the hell they were doing made no sense but still took that journey together. So when I hear this song, it’s like my wife’s singing it to me. And I recall a time that was pure magic and become joyful we decided to take that journey that didn’t make any damn sense together.
I decided to try to find Jessie Payo and her song again. And I found both. This is Jessie Payo’s website and this is her song Dance Real Close as I heard it on the movie. When you go to the comments section of the song’s page, you’ll see troves of folks pouring in, saying the movie brought them there and they searched and searched and searched and they were so glad to finally find it.
It’s amazing, the impact your work has had or will have on people. Scores of die-hards may find you and tell you or you may never know the extent. It doesn’t matter if you’re a household name. It only matters that you put your skill of craft and passion into it. That piece of your soul will speak to others in a language all its own and enrich them for having discovered it.