“Surrogated,” a story about an overreaching temp agency that destroys the fabric of society, is up at Corium. The issue includes a series of short pieces by the wonderful Matthew Salesses. I’m happy to be among such good company.

on Characteristics of Aberrational Cultic Movements

Characteristics of Aberrational Cultic Movements appeared in Caketrain 9 late last year. It is available here.

Most of my father’s side of the family is in an extreme Christian sect, the kind other Christians call “aberrational.” The religion has no name; they don’t identify as anything, but people outside the church refer to them as the Two by Twos. Their preachers (known as workers) own no possessions. They used to be very anti-technology, although that has softened — they use the internet, don’t have to hide radios when the workers visit. My father thankfully left the church in his teens.

I should mention that I don’t think the church is a cult — they employ systems of control I consider abhorrent and unethical, but they don’t have many of the warning signs of a cult. They lack any central charismatic leader. They communicate with people outside the church. In many ways they are similar to conservative evangelicals. But still, the memory of being young and knowing that my extended family was involved in a secretive, nameless sect had to have contributed to this story.

The other point of reference was simpler, rooted more in horror movies and half remembered news reports of my childhood. The source is much more dramatic than the story I ended up writing, but the fear drove it. Read transcripts of John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats talking about horror movies (here, here, here) and you’ll get the idea.

The actual writing of it was unusually quick and straightforward. I had at first intended more specific voices, but I liked how they jumbled together into one collective voice. The characters of the children came about pretty organically, and they became the most distinctive narrators.

The title I owe to this website.

I’m reasonably happy with how it turned out. The arc of the narrative feels clunky and maybe should have been extended near the end. It feels like there isn’t enough build up. I tried to strike a balance between narrative tension and a more natural approach, but didn’t succeed in either. The language usually works though, and the collective voice makes sense.

That’s about all. I’m grateful to the editors Amanda Raczkowski and Joseph Reed for the acceptance. The other work in the issue is excellent and the book is wonderfully designed. I’m happy to have been included.

on Lithification

Edit: It seems that Emprise Review is no more, so it’s unlikely that Lithification will see the light of day. Some parts of it have been cannibalised in this story. I’ll leave this up for, I don’t know, posterity’s sake?

I started writing Lithification 5 years ago, and it shifted a lot in that time. I had been reading Ovid’s Metamorphosis and got the idea to do a collection of creation stories, although only two stories have survived that period. The other one, called “The Five Before,” is done and submitted to a few places. They’ve both changed from the original intention — they are now stories about failed attempts at creation.

The first draft had a similar setting (hybrid island/mountain) and starting point (flood), but the two characters were siblings. The story was called Abominations. Both characters survived the flood, and the sister implored the brother to make new people — there was an unspoken assumption that everyone else on earth had died. They began making these failed creatures, similar to the ones in the finished story. The brother feels like he’s failed and climbs the mountain. He finds the door, goes inside. There is an empty stone room. He spends some time in the room doing nothing, and climbs back down to the sister. There they make even more intricate creatures that are able to talk, grow, and reproduce. That’s where the story ended.

I don’t want to be the kind of writer who bitches about how hard writing is. It can be hard, but the work involved is better than any other work that I’ve experienced. But this one was hard, worth bitching about a little. The work took the form of year long cycles:

1. Pick up the story, do a heavy revision (2 months)

2. Smaller revisions, approach happiness with the piece (2 months)

3. Nagging disappointment, panicked reworking, feeling like there’s an inherent flaw I’m blind to (2 months)

4. Abandonment (4 months)

5. The story pokes at my brain, the nagging feeling that I’m very close, can finish it this time (2 months), and then it all begins again.

So. I should say that while I’m not happy with the story, I’m rarely happy with anything I write. I’ve come to acknowledge that this dissatisfaction is irrational and unavoidable, and if I give into it nothing will ever get done.

That’s all.