Michael and Julie’s “mother” is so clearly dangerous, and the fact that no one else notices or takes that threat seriously makes this story so creepy, I’m a bit nervous to ask what inspired it! But I do want to know how the story came together for you.
It was the third week of Clarion and our instructor said he would like to see me write something more personal, something that “bled” for me. So I sat down and asked myself, “What scares me? What’s personal?” My mother is schizophrenic, and could not take care of herself, much less children. I remembered trying to explain what it was like growing up with her by saying it was like having a large, malfunctioning machine, one that could harm you at any moment and that you could not turn off.
Yes, I sincerely hope she doesn’t read this story. It’s not her fault she has an illness, and she is much better these days.
I adored the awkward not-quite-romance between Michael and Darla. Were those characters and that subplot part of your original concept? How did you develop them?
As soon as I started writing Michael, I wanted to give him friends outside of his sister. I thought about the kids I grew up with and how we played backyard football and tag. Then it occurred to me that Michael was at the age where playing games segues into the great teenage dating game, so I decided to give him a sort-of-love-interest and I liked the idea of inverting the roles by having the girl chase him.
How do you generally go about writing a short story? Did this one fit your usual pattern?
I start with one-sentence “ideas.” Sometimes I combine two or three. I keep an “idea file” for sentences that don’t become stories and go back to it for inspiration now and then.
I like to work under self-imposed deadlines based on scenes rather than word counts—I’ll try to write a scene a day until I finish a story. I’ll try to let the story lie fallow so I forget enough to be able to read it and revise it with a clean eye, though frequently I’m too excited and send the story straight to one of my first readers.
This story did fit my usual mode, save for being written at Clarion, which meant I had a one-week deadline to finish it. I revised a lot as I went, knowing my class would critique it first thing Monday morning!
I usually suffer from self-doubt and won’t send a story out to markets until it has been critiqued and revised four or five times, but this one I felt pretty strong about immediately after the Clarion class read it. I had kept thinking as I was writing, “This isn’t scary. This is soooo boring and unscary.” Then the class read it and uniformly declared it scary as heck!
Thanks to this unreasonable optimism, this story is my most rejected story ever, with over twenty rejections!
What is up next for you?
I have a story with a much healthier mother/child relationship coming out in Analog this year. In ”Hold the Moment,” Daisy Monroe must juggle being a single parent to a precocious pre-teen with inventing time travel.
I was ill for most of 2015 and didn’t get much writing done. (My diary entries while I was high on morphine are AMAZING.) Now that I’m finally healthy, I’m trying to juggle wasting time on novels I’ll never show anyone with completing more short stories!
Spread the word!