Three of my stories were published in May, and I thought I’d share some background for each of them. I’ve been thinking about these stories a lot this past month (no surprise!), partly because the writing process for each of them was so different.
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The Machine of the Devil, in Flash Fiction Online
This story had a rather long and tortured road to completion. Originally, I wanted to write a longer, dark fantasy story that dealt in some way with the Nazi’s Aktion T4 campaign. However, the more I read about it, the less I was able to write. What can you write about something that is so completely and utterly evil? I’m sure it can be done, but I tried and failed several times.
For a while I tried to write a poem instead, but I couldn’t make that work either. Still, the urge to somehow process the things I’d read about Aktion T4 into a story remained. Finally, I decided to make one last try and condense everything I felt and thought, every shred and scrap I had written, into a flash fiction piece. It was a kind of free-flowing writing exercise, and I wasn’t sure it would even work, and when I had the story, I wasn’t sure anyone would publish it: too damn weird, I thought. Shows what I know!
I’m extremely grateful the wonderful team at Flash Fiction Online who gave me some very focused feedback that made the story even better in the end.
The title comes from an interview with a Holocaust survivor I heard on Swedish Radio. “The machine of the devil” was how he described the Holocaust. I’ve been unable to locate the interview, but the phrase stuck with me throughout the writing process.
Metal, Sex, Monsters, in Gamut
This story came about in pretty much the opposite way to The Machine of the Devil. I wrote it in the space of two weeks, and it arrived as a bullet – sleek and shiny and sure of itself. Most of my stories start out more as seeds: they grow from a phrase, an idea, and then I have to prune them back to find them in the tangle of words. This story arrived almost fully formed, and with a very strong voice and point of view.
The origin for it was a vivid memory: attending a party at a classmate’s house when I was probably in grade six or seven, and there being a “kissing game” while Judas Priest played on the record player, just like in the story. That memory had kind of rolled around in my mind for a while before I sat down to write, but when I did sit down, the story spilled out pretty much in its final form. If only the writing process was always like that…
When it was picked up by Gamut, I almost fell off my chair. And the title? Well. This story always had a Judas Priest soundtrack (that’s what I listened to while writing it), and my working title was “Eat Me Alive” – the title of one of Priest’s more controversial tracks. Right before I submitted it, I figured the title was a bit too “on the nose”, so I tried to come up with something fitting before Gamut’s submission window closed. What’s it about? I asked myself. The answer became the title.
Firstborn, in Capricious
This story is so personal that it’s difficult for me to talk about its origins. It grew out of my own experience with motherhood after my son was born. He was born prematurely, has some special needs, and is also one of the funniest guys you’ll ever meet. Becoming his mom, and getting to know him, has overthrown a lot of assumptions I’d made about myself and the world. ‘Firstborn’ was also one of the first stories I wrote when I got back into writing after about 10 years of not writing any fiction. It was a struggle to get it right, and it evolved through several extensive re-writes. Originally, the story was much more “realistic” and linear. It was also almost twice as long.
I received some constructive and very useful feedback from various people throughout the story’s evolution, and without that input it would not have been as good or as strong.
I don’t think I’ve ever written a story that is as personal as this, which might sound strange when the story involves a shape-shifting, flying child… but there you go.
The title stuck with me almost from the first incarnation of the story. I chose it because the child in the story is the firstborn, but also because that word connects to all those fairy-tales and myths where the price claimed for magical or divine favours is a firstborn child.
(If you want to read more of my thoughts on this story, writing in general, and more, there is an interview with me in this issue of Capricious, as well.)