Lina, thanks for this story. I really enjoyed the sense of desperation, not to mention the struggle that the protagonist suffers. The way she puts her body on the line for hope and for her daughter is powerful. In terms of that protagonist, this feels deeply personal, and the story dunks the reader into her experience. Is this piece, or the experience of writing it, personal for you in specific ways? Or is it just about getting yourself into the character?
A little bit of both. I think we’ve all had a relationship where we wish, in our dark little heart-of-hearts, that the other person was just a bit different, even though we know that desire is unhelpful. And we’ve all had relationships where we were in Elena’s shoes and suspected that the other person would be happier if we were just a bit different. On the other hand, I’m not a parent, so those feelings were about getting into the character.
In the space of a few thousand words, you put us right in the driver’s seat. I feel like I almost lived this story. What are some of the tools or techniques you use to bring the reader in?
Halfway through the writing process I changed this story to present tense, and I think that helps the sense of immersion. Of course, it also meant I kept catching past tense errors all the way through several edits, because it’s not the tense I default to.
I think some can see the story’s resolution as fated, while others might interpret it as acceptance; or perhaps even hope, in the sense that, while Sarah is searching through worlds for answers, there is this idea that she could be running away from her reality (obviously this is not how she herself would see it) until she is forced to face that reality—and in facing it, she can finally deal with it somehow; or come to terms with it, at least. This touches on some of the most human themes: on how we deal with stress and pain. In that sense, it’s a pretty important narrative (in my opinion!). Did you play with different endings, and with leaving the reader with a different resolve? Or was there always a feeling/impression you were aiming for?
I took the phone call at the end out and put it back in again three or four times. Ultimately, it would have been a darker story without it. There’s no guarantee that Sarah will fix her relationship with Dahlia or be able to reach Elena, but now she’s looking at her actions and her family with clear eyes instead of hoping for a magic do-over, which is the first step. I wanted to end with a sense of possibility. I like stories with characters who learn to be better people—I think that’s much truer to life (or at least I hope it is!) than just despair.
I also toyed with the idea of having Sarah actually alter her own timeline, but again, that would have been a different and much darker story. It’s a plot I’m still thinking about, though, so it might become another story someday.
Do you relate to the way the Sarah responds to her situation? (I think many readers will!)
I’m an anxious person, and like most anxious people, I often spin through a hundred different “But what if I had just done this instead?” possibilities when I screw up. Sarah’s machine is a literal version of that. She has to run through all the possibilities before she can confront the idea that she has this one world. As Dahlia points out, their daughter is missing and possibly in trouble, and Sarah’s locked away in the basement trying to figure out a way to not have to deal with the situation. It’s not a great reaction, but it’s a human one.
I’m curious about your writing style in general—do you usually work in this sort of deep and involved perspective? Also, I’d love to know what you are working on now that readers can look forward to reading.
I gravitate towards interior stories—characters usually come to me before a world or a plot. Most often I start a story with a character and a feeling. Relationships and people’s reactions to extraordinary situations are what interest me most. When I think of a character, I like to live with them in my head for a while, and I don’t start writing until I have the first paragraph or so in mind.
I’m working on a novel-length project right now, a YA-ish epic fantasy about a young woman who enlists in her empire’s army out of a need to eat rather than any love for her country, and who falls in love with the crown prince’s fiancée. It’s more of an adventure story and a romance than I’ve written before, which is exciting. But it’s been slow because I have to learn how to do interesting worldbuilding. In things that are actually available for other people to read, I’ve had a couple of other short stories come out recently and readers can find those on my website.
Thanks again for the story. I really enjoyed it!
Thank you for your questions, and for reading it!
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