Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Aaron's Story Recommendation of the Week :: The Lesson of the Scribe by Holly Schwartz-Coignat

First Line Spring 2010My story recommendation of the week goes to "The Lesson of the Scribe" by Holly Schwartz-Coignat, from the Spring 2010 issue of The First Line.

The First Line is a print magazine, which selects a different opening line every issue and requires each submitting author to begin her story with that line. The magazine is predominantly mimetic fiction, and the few genre pieces are mostly by non-genre authors who don't much know what they're doing. Yet I give The First Line credit for at least attempting first lines that lend themselves to fantastic approaches. That includes the Spring 2010 issue, in which all the stories begin with the line, "Working for God is never easy."

To me, the story that engages with this premise most successfully is
"The Lesson of the Scribe." It tells the poignant tale of a brilliant Hebrew scribe of ancient Jerusalem, whose work is destroyed when the city is overrun by Babylonians. Schwartz-Coignat effectively conveys the bittersweet satisfaction of writing something beautiful that now will never be appreciated, and she nicely ties that into the theological implications of the scribe's story. Looking back on his apparently futile work in the service of God, the scribe wonders if he failed to appreciate the early advice he received: “Know that there is a difference between truth and honesty.”

Holly Schwartz-Coignat is an American living in southern France, whose work has appeared in mainstream publications such as The Battered Suitcase and With Painted Word. According to her writing blog, she has also been experimenting with genre work. I had to laugh at this statement: "It's the first time I've written specific genre fiction, the first time I've really NEEDED a plot, driven characters and action. Not just an internal struggle." Let's hope she develops a taste for writing real fiction, the kind that tells an actual story——it is obvious from "The Lesson of the Scribe" that she has the talent for it.

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