How did “The Narrative Implications of Your Untimely Death” originate? What inspirations did you draw on?
I had been thinking a lot about constructed narratives, reality television and the blurred line between authenticity and falsehood. I had also been thinking a lot about the concept of a story that is out to get you. I had been thinking about the grand tradition of “murdergame” stories (Battle Royale, The Hunger Games, Squid Game, etc.). And I thought that a subversion of a murdergame story, where death is an escape and life is being trapped, had a lot of weirdness potential.
And that’s the bedrock the rest of the story was built from. The concept that you could only die when you were irrelevant or your death was narratively fulfilling was very seductive to me as a writer—because that’s how a story works, from the author’s perspective! The character only gets to die (escape the narrative) when the death matters, or when the character stops mattering. This story is about what happens when the character tries to game that system.
I drew pretty heavily from the tropes of the aforementioned murdergame stories above, and interviews with people who have been on reality television, and the way long-running TV shows sometimes feel like they never allow their characters to leave the narrative, even after they’re killed off. Death is cheap, and so are fan favorites!
Where are you in this story?
Everyone who saw the first draft of this story told me some variant of “Isabel, Jamie is deranged, this is a crazy thought process for a person to have.” I thought that was very hurtful because I had considered his point of view a pretty logical thought process on what to do if you got trapped in an infinite reality TV murdergame. So, that’s where I am in the story.
Is there anything you want to make sure readers noticed?
Not to give away the whole thesis statement of the story, but I really do hope that the climactic emotional core of it wasn’t too subtle. Jamie’s realization that Rally is afraid to die and afraid of killing Jamie, and that he’s not emotionally the sort of person who can easily do murder even when it doesn’t matter, is supposed to be implicit and obvious. He’s not a character. He’s just himself.
That realization is supposed to be coupled with the knowledge that Jamie is the sort of calculating, coldhearted extra-narrative chessmaster who can do all of the above, and hadn’t known that his friend wasn’t. And then there’s supposed to be a third realization that underneath everything, Jamie is also kind enough to prevent his friend from being emotionally scarred again. That’s supposed to be the big emotional touchpoint.
Implicit and obvious are not necessarily synonyms, and I have no idea if these concepts come across as strongly as I hoped. So I am explicitly telling you now, flouting every rule of good writing.
There is also one really good meme reference in this story, so I hope that at least one person notices that.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
1. Comedy and tragedy are basically the exact same thing except when they’re not.
2. If you learn to write without the wizard in the story it will get way easier to write with the wizard in the story. (By the wizard, I mean speculative elements.) (This one isn’t a joke, I tell this to everyone.)
3. The second person is your friend and it will not harm you.
4. Unfortunately to have written a story, you must actually write it down.
Other than writing, do you have any other creative pursuits? What do you do to relax?
My only real non-writing creative pursuit these days is the podcast I co-host about internet culture. This is an obligatory plug for Wow If True—I promise it’s a cool and fun podcast and I am definitely not contractually obligated to promote it at every opportunity.
I actually used to draw and paint pretty intensely (I have a fine arts degree! Wow! I have to bring that up at every opportunity!), and for a long time I thought I was going to do the fine arts, gallery, oil paintings and conceptual art thing, but it’s been a couple of years since I’ve picked up a brush or tried to make anything serious. A lot of my creative energy has been sunk into “writing fiction,” and it’s been a bit of an odd rebalancing, going from thinking of myself as an artist to thinking of myself as a writer and attorney.
That got really serious. Let’s get silly again. These days, to relax, I mostly do regular human stuff like listening to the same song on repeat, reading the Murderbot Diaries for the seven thousandth time, and playing a truly embarrassing amount of tabletop RPGs. I actually don’t watch a lot of television.
What are you working on lately? Where else can fans look for your work?
Just like last year, I am still working on my wizard novel. But I am also working on a non-wizard novel. And there is still a large pile of unfinished short fiction I am most definitely not ignoring. By the time this is published, I hope that pile is smaller. It is a slim and pathetic hope.
Most of my free-to-read work is linked on my website (www.isabel.kim) so if you liked this story, there’s a whole pile of it over there.
Spread the word!