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6.02.2009

Vermin: An Author's Commentary

I thought this would be fun, for any story I write and either share here or have published, to discuss what went on behind my decision to write it. I know some writers frown upon such a practice and believe a story should stand alone as a pillar of the author's message or intent, but I disagree. Call me a child of the Information Age, but I love extra information. I love watching those "Making Of" documentaries and trivia tracks on DVDs. I love going to IMDB and reading the FAQs and goofs on all of my favorite films. I love novels with forewords, afterthoughts, and epilogues. And I love short story books that have a little paragraph or two on what inspired that particular idea. Stephen King does that in almost all of his short story collections, and I suppose it kind of spoiled me. In spite of the inanity of the ultimate question asked of all writers ("Where do you get all your ideas?"), such commentary does its best to answer that question. This particular piece is for the story I most recently had published, "Vermin." If you missed the link, you can read it here: http://reflectionsedge.com/index.php/2009/06/vermin/.

Although it's my most recent publishing credit, "Vermin" was started over a year ago, and it was the first short story I began in our new house. I initially became inspired by the Discovery Channel series Verminators, which tailed a company of exterminators from house to house and showed how they dealt with all manner of insect and rodent infestations. One night, after watching one episode, I woke up in the middle of the night with the image of a white pest control truck winding its way up a steep driveway toward a house that I already knew would be a match far too big for the two men set to go in it. I had only an exterior description and the two exterminators in mind, but it was enough to start. The actual story just came on its own once I began writing.

The majority of my stories develop this way. The show taught me a lot of the terminology of the trade, which I hadn't been aware of before, and it gave me the visual construct I needed of "men at work." The second part came from my love of stories about abandoned, creepy dwellings. I have a fascination with such places, although I'm not sure if it is a psychic thing or not. Having spent a small sliver of my life exploring places long-abandoned by mankind (trespassing into a long-defunct mental asylum in central Illinois with my best friend a few years ago was the pinnacle of those experiences), I firmly believe that such places hold the imprints of their former inhabitants long after they're departed. And if the place contained a lot of bleakness and sorrow, then it is particularly palpable. It's exhilarating, disturbing, and the perfect breeding ground for fiction. And it's about as close as I'll ever come to believing in "ghosts" until I actually see one.

I hold this belief about the house my family and I lived in before we moved a year ago, and it is that house on which the one featured in "Vermin" is based. It too was surrounded by dense foliage. I can still see the red, dried pine needles carpeting the garden and thick, spongy moss growing up between the roof shingles. I can see the lush greenery from the greenbelt closing in, choking out the lawn and blocking out any sunlight that could have gotten into the house, which contributed to a general sense of inescapable gloom. I can still remember how keeping nature at bay was a battle at which we simply gave up after awhile, and how the house became a symbolic edifice of defeat and failure.

And like the house in Vermin (though not to the same grisly extent), it saw its share of heartache, darkness, and tears. It was a house in which I felt trapped and almost drowned. I'm not sure if it was because of us or the house itself that made me feel that way, but I like to think the house definitely helped. So with those feelings in mind, along with a near-paralyzing fear of insects, I wrote a story about a house that had physically manifested its misery on its inhabitants. That was the theme. The bugs, the exterminators, and the unfortunate fate of Senator Abner Martindale were simply the tools to express those feelings. I feel fortunate that people have read the story and have enjoyed it. I wish I could still share in their enthusiasm for it, but that moment has long since passed.

While I feel so grateful and validated when a piece of my writing is liked (or purchased) by someone else, I find it very difficult to read my own work once it's out of my hands. It doesn't feel like mine anymore. I have a passing fancy with it, but I find I notice its flaws and wonder if there was something I could have done differently. I still admire certain turns of phrase, but they read like something written by another person. There is a strange dichotomy in how a story based on something so personal eventually becomes so detached. I think, if anything, it proves that the love for writing lies not in seeking publication, recognition, or money. It lies in the growth and nurturing of an idea until such a time comes when it's time to cut it loose and set it free into the world, and hope like hell it eventually finds a home. I am thankful this one did.

2 comments:

  1. I am not a squeamish person since I work for Rentokil, albeit in the office rather than in the field... but boy did that story make shivers go up and down my spine. Setting the scene and the background info was brilliant - and it was really great to see a pretty accurate description of what pest controllers have to deal with when they visit old, abandoned property (apart from the scary pest-monster part of course!).

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  2. Danusia -- That is a fantastic compliment knowing that my description of pest control was pretty accurate, considering I based most of my knowledge on a television show. You never know if you're getting the straight scoop from those things or not! :) Thank you so much for reading and enjoying my story!

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