I promised you gratuitous corgi pictures, didn’t I? Well, here we go. Although, since this is a story about a corgi, they’re not really that gratuitous.
“Working Like a Dog” is another absurdist story — I was really into that for a while, and maybe it’s what I’m better at than straight-up fantasy and science fiction. For some reason, my husband and I used to make jokes about our corgi getting a job or helping out around the house, and one day I just took that joke and ran with it.
I guess we joked one too many times about the dog getting a job; he finally did it. I stopped to get gas on the way home from the shop one day and there he was, wearing a little backwards uniform shirt and restocking the chip aisle in the convenience store. My wife said he'd seemed more tired than normal in the evenings, but we figured he'd just spent the day chasing squirrels out of the back yard.
I workshopped this story along with a couple of other flash fiction pieces in the first semester of my MFA. I don’t remember the original title, but I know it was fellow corgi owner and kickass writer C.T. Hutt who told me regarding the title, “the corgi puns practically write themselves.” So I ended up with “Working Like a Dog.” This actually inspired a whole series of stories that took common idiomatic sayings and considered them literally: “Son of a Gun,” “Brain Child,” “Take it With You to the Grave,” and “Cry Me a River” (which became “The Riverhead”), as well as a handful of others that were written but never published.
“Working Like a Dog” is probably the only story I’ve ever submitted for publication that was accepted at the first place I sent it to, and I chose that magazine because I knew it was a perfect fit. Not only because I’d read a number of other stories they’d published, but because I’d read a number of stories by the editor, Nathaniel Tower, and knew that he wrote with a similar surreal, absurd aesthetic. Could it have been published somewhere else, perhaps at a higher-paying market? Maybe. We’ll never know. But I said, “This is a Bartleby Snopes story,” and indeed, it was. (Now if only that would come true the next time I’m sure “This is a Clarkesworld story” or “This is a Beneath Ceaseless Skies story.” But it’s a tough market out there, especially at the pro level.)
This story is absurd and humorous, but like many good absurdist works, it has a societal critique and a sadness at its core. This is a story that comes out of having just lived through the 2008 financial crisis, of four-dollar-per-gallon gas prices, of fear and uncertainty about the future. But all that’s softened and wrapped up in a nice ball of corgi fluff.
“Working Like a Dog” is online and free to read at Bartleby Snopes, and it’s flash fiction at about 800 words — only slightly longer than this blog post. Give it a read sometime, and let me know if it made you laugh.