I’m one of those people who thinks that, sometimes, the birth of a story is almost as interesting as the story itself. That said, I try not to indulge in the practice to much without prompting. But today I want to talk about the birth of “Kilby,” which came out this week for the Humor prompt at Infective Ink.
I started this story at a Clarion West one day workshop last October with the incredible Stephen Graham Jones. The thing was, after reading his Growing Up Dead In Texas, I didn’t expect the class to be particularly cheerful. I’ve been to a fair number of writing classes in my 36 years and I’ve never been to anything quite like it. The combination of joyous energy, personalities hungry to teach and learn, and immediate growth was magical. It isn’t often that a person can leave a 6 hour class and feel like going home and writing some more. A lot of us stayed in touch after that class, too, and have supported one another since.
Life got complicated soon after. I lost my grandfather and attended a workshop that brought my confidence in my genre writing to subterranean levels. I laid the story aside. For a long time. I picked it up again seven or 8 months later, determined to finish it. My writing group loved it and encouraged me to smooth the rough parts and forge ahead. It felt good to finish — like I had come out of that dark place and had something funny to show for it.
I started “Kilby” on its way through the bumpy journey of submissions. Light humor — silliness, in particular — is harder to place than other sorts of fiction and so I knew this particular piece would require patience. That is, until I submitted it to a market who accused the piece of being casually sexist.
Those are fightin’ words for me. Though there was a time in my life when I was a fairly ignorant feminist (and therefore not a very good one), there was no basis for that accusation in the story. “Kilby” is the story of a young girl who perceives her worth and destiny as a part of a couple. Through her maturation, she realizes she maybe never wanted that at all. That is progression. That she at one point wanted a relationship that was unhealthy does not make me sexist. I know because I modeled “Kilby” after my own behavior as a teen. Growing up in a small town, I was boy crazy and thought that the approval of one of those men was what was going to make me special. That romantic love would validate who I was. I was wrong, of course, and I grew out of it. I realized at 24 that, partner or not, I was going to live the life I wanted to that would fulfill me. I happened to meet a partner after that, but our relationship succeeded because we wanted the same things, not because we changed ourselves to be what the other wanted.
“Kilby” is a lot of our stories. Some of us — perhaps all of us — are flawed heroines. If the impetus to write is to see ourselves in literature, then this is a story close to my heart. I’m better for writing this story and I hope others will see it that way, too. My heroine saves the day. I can’t think of anything much stronger than that. xo
I enjoyed reading Kilby.
I wonder if the editor who gave your story that comment thinks that protagonists should have the same values and desires as their authors, who should share the same ones as their readers. If that were true, you couldn’t write about how flawed people can be, how they can make bad choices on limited knowledge.
Nor would you get a play like Richard III.
I grew up in a small town, too, and I know a lot of people like the protagonist of Kilby. The effects of the blinders of small-town life shouldn’t be censored from fiction.