Saturday, June 27, 2009

Old Friends in New Places

There's something to be said for reading your work, after it gets published; it's a totally different experience than all the times you read through it in various drafts and editing stages. You know that what you're looking at, in print, is finished. It's complete, static, and whatever flaws it may have are unapologetically permanent now. It's liberating, because there's no more performance anxiety on your part. You've done the work, and now you get to see your child, as it were, living an independent life; I imagine this is what parents must feel like when their kids move out.

When I was putting together the links for the blog here, I re-read the stories; some of them I hadn't read since I put them on the shelf, and I wince about that a little now. Re-reading "Falling Away" made me wince a little because I clearly broke the rule of submitting: always, always, always do a once-over polish of the manuscript before you send it somewhere, because you never know if this will be the time they publish it, and this might be the draft where you forgot to patch up the continuity errors. Falling Away is certainly rife with them.

But despite that, I still love this story. I always have, even though I was pretty sure for awhile that nobody else would.

I originally got the idea while I was working on "Flowers for Lily" (which is, by all accounts, a much tighter and technically better piece); I was snooping around at Snopes.com and found an interesting snippet about a person who was believed to be dead, but in fact woke up in the morgue. When he attempted to return to his life, his fiancee was completely horrified and rejected him. The premise fascinated me, and I ruminated on it for awhile. How do you know you're alive? What if you were dead and you didn't realize it? How could you find out if you really were dead, aside from dying again -- and then, would you just be two kinds of dead?

Growing organically from that premise was a specific scene: a young goth-girl convincing a man to commit suicide to check if he was really dead. From there, the rest of the story just had to be fleshed out as a justification for how a person could get to that point, and be believable. What kind of person could get into that situation? How desperate would you have to be to try it?

The idea of death as an eternal hangover came from a dear friend of mine who did his best to destroy his liver for a few years in college. During a particularly thrilling night of partying, he managed to sustain some minor head trauma, and spent a good portion of the next day convinced he was either dead or dying. I loved the idea, and the "dead guy" story (as I was tentatively calling it at the time) got its main character and narratorial voice from that shtick.

It made its debut in a college writing course and again in a graduate school workshop. It was never exactly met with the kind of feedback I was hoping for, and for awhile I was quite certain I was the only person in the world who actually liked the damn story.

I sent it out sporadically, receiving two form rejections, and two personal rejections before Static Movement picked up the piece just 5 days after I submitted it. The story's like that -- you either love it or you just don't quite get it. Static Movement, incidentally, is a great 'zine and well worth looking at; I'm excited for the print issue to be coming out and hope Falling Away gets a place in it, but will probably be purchasing a copy one way or another.

The best part of the experience -- of re-reading this story that I haven't had the stomach to look at in nearly a year since it was last edited -- is the feeling of falling in love with it again, of remembering why I was passionate about it to begin with. There are passages in there that still make me laugh out loud every time I read them, lines that still make me stop and say, "damn, that was a sweet line." And that's what it's all about, at the end of the day -- loving your work, and being reminded why you're passionate about this in the first place.

There really is no better feeling in the world than meeting an old friend, and realizing you have just as much in common with them as the day you met.

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