In answer to questions I was not asked…

PANK recently sent me questions for the author interview they’ll be posting as a followup to my story that ran in their September edition. The questions have me thinking about the story, and people’s varied reactions to it. My own reaction to the questions has been interesting. The interviews editor’s questions were quite different from the ones I’d imagined I would get. The questions indicate that he’s interested in different aspects of the story than I am. They also indicate, I suspect, a very different set of life experiences. It’s a good reminder for me–the reader brings their entire life to the page with them, and my words are filtered through that life. The reader’s understanding of anything I write will be different than my own understanding of it. That’s WONDERFUL, really. It’s what makes art vital and true, the way–at its most successful–that it can speak to each of us in a different way.

The questions PANK asked me are good ones. I hope to provide interesting answers (and will be tackling that right after I get done here). But when I read them I realized that there are things I had wanted to say about this story, and those things don’t fit in with the questions put before me.

So…this story… Have you read it? If you want to and haven’t, maybe go and do that now before reading more here. I don’t think it’s too susceptible to spoilers, but still. Wouldn’t want to ruin it for you.

Okay. Everyone who wants to read it read it now?

The driving force of the story is Karen’s grief and loss. She’s suffered three miscarriages and, caught up in her pain, kidnaps a woman in labor.

I heard from a number of people who were disturbed by this story. Interesting–those readers who were aware of my history, my own three miscarriages, were much more deeply upset by it than were readers who had no (assumed) autobiographical context for it. They perceived this as a story about me and my grief, and found it much harder to read as a result. Even my mother thought it was autobiographical. She was certain it was, and found it painful to read because of that.

Yep. I said assumed autobiography. See, I wrote this story before I had a single miscarriage. I gave Karen three miscarriages because that seemed to me to be the number there would be no coming back from. I’m happy to report that’s not true in my case, though immediately after the third I might have thought it was.

(If you haven’t been with me going back that far and want to get caught up: miscarriage #1, miscarriage #2, and miscarriage #3. Is that gruesome, to link to them like that? I suppose the fact that I can so blithely do so points to my having recovered, despite my suspicions that I wouldn’t.)

“Gone to Water” is not about my own miscarriages. After my losses I revised for language and tightened the story’s arc, and lopped off an ending that cinched the whole thing in too tight and neat, but I did not make any substantive edits to the content. This is a story written by a woman who had experienced one healthy pregnancy, effortlessly achieved (and then went on to have a traumatic labor and delivery, but that’s another story altogether).

This leaves me wondering how what we know–and what we think we know–about an artist affects our experience of their work. And what does that mean for those of us working in the age of blogs and twitter?

And then, this: I thought that when my daughter was born she instantaneously and completely healed me of the pain of those miscarriages. Because it took all those losses to get to her, and I want her more than any other baby who might have been. I choose her. Fiercely. But then I sat down to record myself reading the story for the PANK website, and when I got to the revelation of Karen’s miscarriages I started to cry. I wept my way through the reading of the rest of the story. I’m not sure how much of that you can hear on the playback, but I was a wreck by the time I reached the last line.

So my lost babies…they’re in there, even if I didn’t carry them through the actual writing of the words.

And that… That is what I want to say about “Gone to Water.” My thanks to everyone who took the time to read it.

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2 comments on “In answer to questions I was not asked…
  1. Midj says:

    I did not ascribe the autobiographical leaning even though I’ve been reading your blog since before your first was born. I found it difficult to read because it is a very moving story of loss and what can come from loss. Thanks for giving us this inside look at where the words came from. I’m interested to see the interview…

  2. Katy Devine says:

    After I got home from my Portuguese class last night, I cuddled up (no, more like huddled) in the corner of the couch for the rest of the night reading your short story and your old blogs.

    I hadn’t read the story, so I read it before I continued on with the rest of the blog. It was haunting and palpable. I had two pregnancies and two healthy children; I couldn’t begin to fathom the pain and anguish that Karen must have felt. And I was glad, no, relieved that it was just a story.

    Then I read the rest of your blog (and the linked blogs). And I had to try hard, really hard, not to cry. I had no idea. All those times that we’ve stood on the sidewalk watching our children play (and bicker) and chatting about who-knows-what and I never knew. Not that that’s something that you just up and say, but you know what I mean. And then I found myself racking my brain, hoping that I had never said or done anything unknowingly that might have caused you pain or brought back those painful memories. If so, I truly am sorry.

    I looked at the date of your #3 blog, May 2009. Just two months after I had Eva. And if my math is correct, not too long before girlie found her way to you. I’m glad she did.

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Writer, With Kids