"The best stuff, the stuff that lasts, comes out of late night conversations with your very own self" - Mort Castle
Next weekend, my story "Lament at Sundown" will debut at AnthoCon in Four Horsemen's first anthology, Anthology: Year One. It's a different story for me - my first non-supernatural tale - and, in many ways, very personal, a perfect embodiment of the quote from Mort Castle above.
It began, ironically enough, with a good-natured, running gag in one of my classes. Several of my honors students had this running joke with one of their mates - a student of an Arabic/Middle-Eastern background (but fully, whole-heartedly American) - that she was Native American. This led to random references to hunting buffalo, scalping, pow-wows, and fire-water, whenever the time seemed right: in the middle of conversations, tests, class discussion...pretty much whenever. It became our class's version of the time-honored "That's what she said" joke.
Now, I know what you're thinking - how could I allow such cultural insensitivity in the classroom? But, I knew these students well - had known this one student's family for over ten years - and it was clear that everything was offered in good fun (and I checked with said student, several times). Sure enough, for Halloween, the student in question came into class dressed in full-tilt Native American garb - headdress and tomahawk and all - and proceeded to "scalp" several of her fellow students for their insolence.
This, ironically enough, on a slow day, led to a discussion about my writing process. They asked how I came up with new stories, and I told them what I tried to do was draw as much inspiration from life as possible.
I then referenced their running gag and said: "Here's the thing: you guys have all been really kind and laid-back about this, it's obviously a joke between old friends. But what if it WASN'T? What if there was meanness and violence behind it, and what if...what if...the victim, a female, decided she wasn't going to take it anymore? Was going to take matters into her own hands?"
And thus, this story - in its earliest form - was conceived with the help of these ten students (Thanks, guys. You know who you are).
This story deals with other things, also. The helplessness I sometimes feel as a teacher, in trying to touch students' lives...and failing, so often. Also, it's a hard look at how fear and prejudice and even racism start as very small, innocuous seeds, sprout, grow into something dark and deadly...often claiming those most innocent.
This story is rather bleak. I know, several weeks ago, I posted about claiming the title of Idealist, and being proud of it. But, I also noted that short stories are very different animals than novels, and because of that, my short stories will very often be darker and bleaker than my long work, because in many ways, they're meant to be quick gut-checks, sharp jabs to the kidneys, forcing the reader - hopefully - to think, forcing them into a greater awareness of the world around them. Have no idea if I accomplished this, but I tried, especially with this one, to step above genre, aim at something deeper.
Structurally, I tried something a bit different, also. Hope it works. At the very least, I tried something interesting, so if comes off as a failure, maybe it'll be at least an interesting failure.
Either way, looks to be a great collection. If you're at AnthoCon this year, pick one up. If not, it'll be available through all the usual markets afterward. The TOC is below: