I loved “The Good Son” so much! Such an amazing, bittersweet story. What inspired you to write it?
I wrote this story after the death of my mother-in-law.
My mother-in-law died in 2005 from complications of Type II diabetes. She was in her sixties, so not particularly old, but in the eighteen months before her death, she’d lost all kidney function and had to go on dialysis; she lost her sight; and she had a heart attack. In her last weeks, my husband went out to be with her and was sitting at her bedside when she died. It was emotionally very hard on him, and when he came home, he said, “Am I going to have to do that with you?” I said, “I was planning to outlive you,” and he said, “Okay, good.”
This started me thinking about how outliving your partner means experiencing their death, whenever it comes, and I wanted to write about that. So that was one piece of where the story came from.
The other piece: I was in a store one day and I heard a parent paged for a lost child, which somehow got me imagining a childless person who hears herself paged, and shows up, and there’s this kid there, insisting that he’s hers. What if, instead of swapping a fairy changeling for a human child, the fairy child just showed up and insisted that he’d been your child all along? I poked at that a little but I couldn’t quite get it to work as the light, humorous story I’d initially imagined.
I really enjoyed the effect of the structure you chose, interleaving the letter to Maggie with the tale as it unfolds, leaving us unsure how events are going to turn out. How did you settle on organizing the story like that?
The very earliest drafts of the story have that organization. I think that initial narration was really essential to how I was telling the story.
What was your process for planning and writing this story? Did it ever give you trouble?
I looked back at the early drafts, and there were a couple of things I had to iron out to make it work. In one early version, the mother had Alzheimer’s. But, for the narrative to work, I felt like I needed a more compressed timeline, with the illness happening over months, rather than years.
In the initial draft, the ring Doreen gives the narrator is just a ring, and the gift is symbolic of the fact that she’s accepted him as her son. My critique group wanted an explanation for why the narrator’s magic didn’t work on Doreen, and I realized that if the ring provided protection against fairy magic, then it has more weight as a gift, because handing it over is such an act of trust.
Any new projects you want to share?
I wrote a near-future SF novel, Liberty’s Daughter, about a teenage girl on a seastead. (Seasteads are real-ish: There really are people who are actually trying to build them. The idea is that if they build a man-made island, they can use it to found their own tiny country which they can then run on their pet political principles.) I haven’t been able to sell it as a novel, but I’ve been selling it an episode at a time to F&SF. There’s a story in the January issue, and there will be another story coming out from them this summer. I’m currently planning to self-publish the novel version this summer or fall.
I have two more short stories I’ve written recently that are on similar themes to “The Good Son.” When my husband and I first started dealing with caregiving issues, it seemed like we were the only ones among our friends who were facing this, but everyone else is catching up now, which has me thinking about the issues again. I have a story I just started sending around that’s about cleaning out your parents’ house, which is an experience more and more of my friends have had to get through. And I have a story about caregiving for someone with severe dementia, which I haven’t been able to sell yet because I framed it as a zombie story — so I’ve gotten all these rejections saying, “Wow, this was great, but I’m sorry, I can’t buy a zombie story.” (I am confident I’ll sell it eventually to someone who will agree with me that it is completely different from the other zombie stories out there.)
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