[ jolene and callie]
(Image via Bill Gracey on Flickr)
A few months ago, I backed this awesome project for a new literary journal, Midnight Breakfast. A few weeks after that, I was asked by Taylor Pavlik if I'd consider sending them writing. I scrambled, a little panicked. I looked at what I had, and what I had were a dozen or so stories and essays in various states of finish (by which I mean, totally not even close to being done). I then looked at the project I was working on for the last two years, made up of stories of a family, a single family, and dug out the one story that had been giving me the most trouble. It was a story about two sisters, and the awful guilt one has over the other's death.
No, I didn't just spoil it for you. It's right there in the first page.
When I first wrote it, it was a quick three paragraphs, explaining the relationship this girl had with her sister, the reason why she lived a life feeling invisible and guilty.
Then I kept trying to write it into a full-fledged short story.
3 versions that started "Callie was named not after the instrument or the muse, but the flower."
1 version from the first person of the older sister
1 version from the first person of the dead sister (as a disembodied voice)
1 version from the first person of the dead sister, as a ghost with an otherworldly little pet
2 versions in third person
4 versions in straight, linear narrative from before the drowning to present
2 versions in straight linear narrative from the present
1 version in circular narrative
2 versions in collage
In the end, the version I have now, is sort of collage, but broken like chapters. I don't know why this felt more right to me than collage broken by little star markers, but it did.
I sent this version to Taylor Pavlik, one of the editors over at Midnight Breakfast. He offered me a few awesome editorial suggestions, and a month later, my new story is up there. Yes, I'm proud to say that the story, "What Remains", is in Issue 2 of Midnight Breakfast!
The story is one that has haunted me since I started this project and discovered it was in the back history of the older sister, Jolene. I'd originally never intended to write out this story; I intended for it to simply be part of her history, part of what she carried with her as a grown adult. But the more I dug, the more compelled I was. I wanted to know how a child grows to be an adult who carries guilt and self-loathing with her. At what point does a child's misunderstanding, fears, self-doubt become too far to be corrected? What happens if instead of being corrected, being loved, a child carries a faulty belief into adulthood? Was there a way to stop it? Was there an opportunity when that child might have saved herself?
Readers of my chapbook (or the Writers Digest Short Short Story Competition Anthology from last year) might be able to link the characters in this story to another story I already have published. (I'll give you a hint: the story's title rhymes with "Schmecency".) Though they're meant to be standalone, they belong to the same universe. And maybe will help you understand, a little bit better, why Jolene's parents are the way they are.
Thanks so much to Midnight Breakfast, to the team of editors, and to the awesome illustrator, and most of all, to Taylor Pavlik, for being an AMAZING editor and so so awesome to work with.