Friday, April 27, 2012

The story behind "Dead Things"

I have a little story in a short story collection called, “Dead Things.” It can be found in THE GATE 2: 13 Tales of Isolation and Despair, which was edited by the fantastic Robert J. Duperre. I wrote a little bit about how the story came about at the very end, but thought I’d go into a little more detail in this blog.

When I started out writing at a very young age, I had this idea in my head that I’d write thrillers, action/suspense novels, horror novels, and so on. My early writing sucked because I was always trying to come up with over complicated plots. I was good at fleshing out characters, and I was really good at writing dialogue. But when I would try to come up with a story idea, I’d always fall flat because I was thinking too much about the plot. I started a lot of stories and never ended up finishing most of them.

Things changed at college when I was introduced to Raymond Carver. I remember when we first started reading his stories, I was completely baffled. At first, the ending felt abrupt and I couldn’t see much of a plot. But the stories stuck with me and the more I read, the more I fell in love. As I read more of his stories, I said to myself, “These are the stories I want to write.” You didn’t have to have a complex plot. You needed characters that seemed real. They could be flawed as hell, but so long as you made them interesting enough for the reader, you were set.

I think that’s when my writing really started to take shape. I was no longer bogged down by plots that didn’t work out. I simply wrote about everyday issues with everyday people. Most of the stories were sad. Many of them didn’t offer happy endings. Yet, they seemed to work.

Jump ahead a few years and not only am I writing slice-of-life fiction, but I also find out that I can write dark humor and horror in a form called “drabbles,” which are 100-word short stories. I had a lot of fun with the drabbles, but I also needed a break from them so I could focus on my true love, which is slice-of-life fiction.

I wrote this story a few months back before Rob contacted me and asked if I wanted to be a part of his collection. It was originally called, “Childish Matters,” although truth be told, I was never completely happy with the title at the time. That first title just came about because of a conversation that takes place between a father and his son when they’re talking about an old lady neighbor who is losing her mind. I’d read a story about a woman who wasn’t all there in the head beforehand, and I thought it’d be fun to write a character like that in a story. I knew she wouldn’t be the main character, nor would she be the main focus of the story. But it was a starting point. It started off in my head as an old woman knocking on her neighbor’s door, screaming about zombies.

Then the story focuses on the father and his son. The wife is no longer in the picture. At first, I wasn’t sure why. I just thought that maybe she wasn’t ready to be a mother and just walked out forever. I also knew that these so-called zombies that the old woman was screaming about were actually stoned teenagers on a playground.

And then it hit me; what if the father’s wife ended up becoming a drug addict? When I realized that, that’s when it made seeing the drugged-out teenagers even more powerful to me. It had a more devastating effect.

And that’s how the story came to be.

So when Rob asked me to be a part of the short story collection, I was trying to come up with some really complicated horror story. Again, going back to when I was little.

Bad, bad Mikey.

He told me I should focus on what I do best, and that’s slice-of-life. It didn’t have to be a horror story, so long as it fit the theme of the collection, which was “isolation” and “despair.” I told him I had this story that I finished not too long ago. He told me to send it over, so I did.

He loved it. He really, really loved it. And that was a huge compliment, because I really do think it might be one of the best stories I’ve written so far.

Rob fine tuned the story here and there, as editors do. I was happy to see that he didn’t think it needed any major changes, although I was prepared to have an open mind in case if changes needed to be made.

One change he made was the title. He also extended the ending just a little bit, while still staying true to the very last scene I had in my head. When he told me the new title, I fell in love with it. As I said, I was never happy with “Childish Matters,” but at the time that was the best I could do.

“Dead Things” is a much different story for me. While it helped me return to writing what I love, it was a bit different from what I normally write. Usually, my stories are very depressing and don’t offer happy endings for the characters. And while this story is indeed bleak and sad, it does offer a very touching moment. While there are no sure answers as to what would happen in the future, there was a little light at the end of the tunnel and it didn’t end as a downer.

 I wouldn’t have it end any other way.

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