Chasing The MacGuffin

I had a pleasant surprise this afternoon when I received an email from a magazine editor informing me that my short story, “The World’s Best Coffee,” got accepted for publication in The MacGuffin (Fall 2009).

The hard part was restraining myself from stripping down to my undies and run around the neighborhood like Homer Simpson. Something my brother did one year when he got drunk from ten tequila shots on his birthday, and, being the president of the homeowner association, the neighbors recognized him in his undies, and he hid in the hallway closet when the cops showed up. After the euphoria wore off, I started looking at the details of this submission.

With two dozen short stories written during the last three years circulating in the slush piles, it’s difficult to remember what’s what and where’s where. After reviewing the story and checking the submission tracking spreadsheet, I realized something that I didn’t know until today: I wrote a MacGuffin story that I submitted to a magazine that specializes in MacGuffin stories.

Well, d’oh!

A MacGuffin is the object in a mystery story that everyone wants but isn’t what everything thinks it is. “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett is a classic example. My short story about a cup of coffee stolen by a guy being chased by the woman who ordered the coffee throughout the shopping center, and, after drinking the coffee, he discovers that the woman has his wallet that fallen out at the coffee shop. When the woman hands over the wallet to the police officer and she sees the man, she points him out as the owner of the wallet and the creep who stole her coffee.

In short, the story was never really about the coffee.

This short story was like many of the short stories that I have written was inspired by a real life situation. I had ordered a medium mocha with whip cream at Peet’s Coffee & Tea in Santana Row one weekend morning. After waiting a few minutes, my order was ready. A guy stepped in front of me, picked up my mocha, and ran out the door before anyone could react. There’s nothing you can do about a stolen coffee in a crowded store and shopping center. Who in their right mind would file a police report over a stolen cup of coffee? After the store made another cup of mocha for me, I started thinking about the obvious question that came to my writer’s mind: “What would happen if someone did follow the guy out the store in pursuit of the stolen coffee?”

The basic scenario came together when I went over to the bookstore to look around while drinking my replacement mocha. I wrote out the basic scenario on a notepad when I got back to the car. The notepad later became a 1,000-word short story. The Macguffin was the fifth magazine where I submitted the story. I ended up writing the perfect story for the perfect magazine without ever thinking about either one.

NOTE: This blog post was first published on Once Upon An Albatross… blog.