Featherly: A Story’s Path

I’m thrilled to share the link to my latest published short story, Featherlyhttp://www.summersetreview.org

My sincerest thanks go out to the editors and artists of The Summerset Review for their guidance and professionalism — and for their fabulous presentation of my work!

Like many of my stories, Featherly is loosely based on experience, in this case, my attempt, along with my b-school best friend, to become great Chicagoland restaurateurs. Not surprisingly, the effort didn’t work out—in fact, we lasted barely one year—but the experience was rich with character and tension, and once I began my second-act as a writer, I knew I’d someday need to create a narrative about those days. The recollections percolated for years, decades actually, but I always knew the title: Featherly.

Being a couple cocky, freshly minted MBAs from one of the world’s great business schools (http://www.kellogg.northwestern.edu/about/global-hub.aspx), we found a modest, sit-down service, checkerboard table-clothed deli style restaurant out in Naperville, Illinois, one that our unparalleled judgment just knew could be replicated all across the Chicago area. Of course, they didn’t have a course at b-school on how to manage busboys, dishwashers, and waitresses—let alone short-order cooks!

And here’s the thing about short-order cooks: They own you!

Unless you’re willing—and have the skills—to step behind the grill at a moments notice, your short-order cook is the king. If he (or she) walks, you might as well close the doors, because nobody’s getting served.

Our king was named Featherly, and boy could he cook. Some of his most memorable traits are captured in my story’s title character, but for the most part I just loved the name. We also employed a dishwasher who loved professional wrestling, and who didn’t mind cleaning out the grease trap, and we had a high school kid who cut his hand on a slicer and was rushed to the hospital (guess who had to manage that mess!). I don’t know what it is about the restaurant business, but they attract an astonishing variety of characters, each with their own compelling backstory. Sorting through all the memories to make some sort of narrative sense often seemed hopeless. We owned the restaurant, Simply Delicious, only from the fall of 1984 through 1985, but the experience nonetheless weighed on me throughout my business career.

They say (probably too often) that you learn more from your failures than successes, and while I’m not sure that’s entirely true, I can say that failures provide outstanding elements for story. Over a frenzied two-week period last summer I finally sat down to attempt a story based on my restaurant experience. As best as I can remember, it was the idea of a Wrestlemania party that jumped out at me as an event around which I could craft the story, and after a couple rounds of revision I quickly sent the story out to journals. The result: complete and total rejection!

But after another round of revision, one that moved the Featherly character upfront and added a more obvious threat of the restaurant’s closing, I sent it out again…

So here’s a story over 30 years in the making—and what’s better than fiction to turn failure into a modest success?

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