Forget April Fools Day – it’s new story day!!! I’m absolutely thrilled to have my story Snake Season out in such a wonderful publication! I love The Dark – they publish such amazingly creepy and terrifying dark fantasy and horror, and were high on the list of venues that I wanted to see my work in. It doesn’t hurt that they also have beautiful covers, a top-notch editorial team, and are known for publishing lots of women and people of color.
I am not the best at describing my own stories, but I call this my “babies on the bayou” piece – it’s about a pregnant mother, her young son, and the dead little girl who comes visiting. Well, sort of. Check it out here before reading the notes below – spoilers abound!
One last fun note before the nitty-gritty – this is the first story that was part of my new initiative to commission art to celebrate short story sales. I love doing it because it lets me take part of my story sale money and use it to support another artist, and also because it makes me feel fancy (especially since I’m a ways off from having a novel with cover art to promote). For this story, I commissioned work from Sarah Macklin – check out her website here, which is the heading for this post. I absolutely love it – I think she really captured the place and Marie.
And now, on to the notes!
The Origin Story: This story originally came out of a short story contest on the speculative fiction writing message board Codex (which, if you qualify for, you should absolutely join – it’s an unparalleled resource for neo-pro writers, in my opinion). I got the two pictures below from other writers on Codex as prompts.
They both made me think of things falling apart, and the purple and yellow whatever-that-is made me think of water and melting. Great – I had a feeling and some imagery, but now I needed some sort of plot or event to get me started writing.
Luckily, I always have a few different amorphous ideas floating around in my head, waiting to coalesce into a story, and at that time I’d been mulling over the idea of one child helping to kill another (probably from reading an article online or hearing a messed-up story). I put the feeling of the pictures with the plot element of the child-killing and started writing. Eventually, I came up with first lines that are pretty close to the final version:
We buried the first ones. It sounds foolish now, but what did we know? We still thought of them as children.
I followed that up with a paragraph or two that established a mother who had killed her child and that child’s return, then got completely blocked. I sent what I had to my MFA advisor Nancy Holder, whose wonderful suggestions included this gem: Sarah’s returning is not that unusual in a horror story. The real story is why.
As soon as I started tackling that, the pieces of the story began to (very slowly) fall into place. The story changed a lot along the way, and I’m not sure how much of those pictures is still in the piece, but the idea of melting and water helped me pick the bayou as a setting and I think the pictures on the whole really helped me figure out the story’s overall mood.
Fun Facts: Since this story takes place on the bayou (not our bayou, per se – I always think of my stories as taking place in a world very much like ours, but in a town you just can’t see) and I’ve never lived on one myself, I had to do some research. Luckily, I found the perfect book – Glimpses of Black Life along Bayou Lafourche: Brief Stories of How Black People Lived, Worked, and Succeeded During Challenging Times. I knew my characters would be black, and I wanted to get a sense of how black people would make a living along the bayou in low-tech times, what folks might eat and drink in the region, etc. I don’t think much of what I found explicitly made it into the story, but it helped to inspire me and to establish the voice of my main character Marie, and the occasional phrase like “grassing the rice fields” did end up in the piece. Plus, I got to read a great book – since I find developing the voices of my characters one of the most enjoyable parts of writing, I love getting a first-hand perspective on life anywhere, anytime.
A Little Something Extra: This story went through a lot of edits and changes as I developed it, but the most important major shift came from an MFA workshop. People there liked the general idea of the story, but found it confusing because it’s all from Marie’s POV, which they found fairly unreliable. Cara Hoffman, the workshop leader, pointed out that the best way to deal with this feedback might be to introduce a character who interacts with Marie, to help readers see how her public and private selves differ and what others think of her. That advice led me to change the Conjure Man from a character referenced in the story but never seen to someone who visits Marie in her house during the story. I think the interactions between them added several much-needed layers to the story and helped me figure out the ending. I love the addition.
I could say more about this story, but this post is long enough I’m interested to see what everyone else thinks. Dark fantasy/horror in general, and this story specifically, means dealing with difficult subjects, but I’m hoping that what I was trying to do with the piece comes through. We’ll see!