Butterflies on Barbed Wire

butterfliesIt was the last week of Clarion.  My sixth story was critiqued on Monday, and I was startled, like coming out of a long sleep, to find I did not need to scramble to write another story by NEXT Monday.

Naturally, I started writing a new story.  It started as a stream-of-consciousness ramble in my journal.  It started with the phrase, “The girl who is gone.”  I wanted to write something ostensibly about a character who wasn’t in the story – like all the other characters would be moving around her and their actions and thoughts would paint her for us.

On a page near the end of my Clarion notebook:

“Pretty painted boy, covered in tattoos – who owns your skin? Paper chains. The girl who is gone.”

On the next page:

Story idea: the Girl Isn’t There

Damien’s life is restricted on all sides by the girl who isn’t there.  He washes his skin with her soap – his skin covered with the whorls of her art. He wears long-sleeved shirts he hates and which are too warm in the Louisiana sun, because she left a vulva on his right forearm.

(It is only now, looking over my notes, I realize that the vulva tattoo was in the story from the beginning. Where did I get THAT? Also – Louisiana? This took place in Louisiana originally? Woah.)

I quickly forgot about the girl-not-there idea and got interested in the characters and their lives.  The characters are poor white people in a tiny town in rural Ohio, feeling trapped, with family secrets and art and counter-culture roots.   Kinda like me.  My characters are tattoo artists – counter-culture’s grown-up forgotten forerunners.  Nowadays, grandmothers have tattoos, but there’s still that memory of rebellion.  My dad had to go all the way to Sandusky to get his first tattoo because there were no parlors in Cleveland. Can you imagine??

I digress.  On my idea pile was an article from Wired about LED tattoo technology.  I realized if they were already making articles in Wired about animated tats I had to step it up and have 3D animated tats.

My senior year of high school, I spent months researching holograms.  I had some hair-brained idea I would make a hologram as my senior science project, what with my budget of zero dollars and all the materials I could scrounge from a suburban garage.  Didn’t happen, but I had all this knowledge kicking around about how 3D works at the back of my mind.

So I worked that into the story with the tattooing and the girl who wasn’t there and more than a hint of family dysfunction and sexual misconduct.  I populated the story with bedrooms I have slept in and houses I have walked through and tattoo parlors I have waited in interminably while my mom got her tats done.  It’s grungy and funky and maybe a little hopeful.

I submitted it to Clarkesworld in December of ’13, part of my rush to get all Clarion stories submitted to markets by the end of 2013.  It was rejected seven times.

I still can’t believe Analog bought it.  It’s in the October, 2015 edition. You can get the e-book version here.   You can buy a subscription to Analog Here. And here, at last, is a link to buy just the October 2015 issue.

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