I got to thinking it might be fun to do a writer’s version of the extras section you see on DVDs and Blu-Rays. For those of you that are creative, I hope it helps inform your own processes, and for those of you who want to be entertained, I hope these Notes serve as an interesting enhancement to the story you just read, or heard.
Fair warning: any Notes entries here may contain spoilers. If you haven’t read the story under discussion, it’s probably better to leave this for after you’re done.
Let’s start with “Expecting.”
This is the first brand-frickin’-new short story I’ve completed in quite a while, and I’m actually very excited about it. That’s a rarity in itself; I’ve always viewed myself as a novelist who dabbles in other forms of storytelling, but after finishing the first draft of my next novel, I felt I needed a break before revising. I certainly didn’t want to start another novel, and I’d been reading more short fiction, so I decided to do a little study on the form. To that end, I would write some shorties for a couple months and see what I could get out.
“Expecting,” was not on my radar. I’ve got a list of 20 or so good short story ideas, and I meant to be working them up. Then, one day in mid-January, my wife Margie comes downstairs to my office at 5:30 am with a pregnancy test in her hand. It was positive, which was cool and surprising, since we’d been having a devil of a time getting with child. In fact, it was at least temporarily off our radar, for a variety of reasons. So there she was, looking as stunned as I felt, and of course big news like that can’t help but take over the mind (inclusive of the imagination) of a writer and start growing.
Two days later, I connected some dots. That’s how stories often spring up in my head. Two or three ideas or people on The Imaginary Playground bump together and stick, like they were all wearing clothes with glue on the outside. Separating them, once seen together, is just impossible, especially since the what-ifs got themselves into order and started making a narrative (this happens, which causes this, and then this, and so on). In this case, it was the desire I had to deal with becoming an expectant father sticking to an old worry of mine – how to be a good father when I didn’t have the example to fall back upon. My dad, like Pete in “Expecting,” died when I was young, and most of the grown men I knew for the next decade and a half were…shall we say less-than-role-model material? Yeah, let’s cut it short and not get too personal.
So, I had these two ideas that stuck together, and then one early evening, as I was showering after the day-job, an image came into my head of a hospital. The one in Berwyn, downtown, where my dad died, and that’s the floor where the majority of “Expecting” takes place. I then thought – and I remember this clearly – they have babies in hospitals, too. Once unleashed in my mind, the two stuck-together ideas put together the ghost story of Pete meeting the spirit of his father while waiting to become a dad.
Writing the first draft took about 3 days. I then set it aside for a week, worked on other projects, and then spent about 3 more days reading, revising, and revising again. I might’ve waited a little longer to look back at it, but when I was invited to read at Waterline Writers and they wanted a sample of what I’d be reading, I didn’t want to give them something I wasn’t done with. What if it sucked? What if I didn’t complete it? So I knuckled down, which in this case didn’t amount to a terrible amount of work. This is one of those rare stories that came out pretty fully in the first draft. The second was about making all the dots connect, and the third was about getting the language to flow. Nice and easy; I honestly still don’t trust how much that was true, but I’ve been doing this long enough to roll with it.