Story Notes: “What Everyone Remembers”

cw_64_350The third in my irregular series of notes on my published short fiction. This time on my second Clarkesworld story, “What Everyone Remembers”. Starting with this one, too, I decided to add a few relevant statistics to each note:

  • Title: What Everyone Remembers
  • Genre: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic
  • Word count: 3800
  • Published: January, 2012
  • Started: June 21, 2011
  • Finished: June 23, 2011
  • First Submitted: October 5, 2011
  • Rejections before selling: 4
  • Date it ultimately sold: December 20, 2011
  • Lifetime rejections at sold date: 749
  • Summary: While the surface is ravaged by an unspecified disaster, two scientists have a dispute over how to raise the little intelligent cockroach creature who they intend as a replacement for mankind.

I remember being with Maman in the cabin of her ship, anchored someplace where the wind was always howling, the temperature was always freezing, and fires were always dancing just beyond the horizon. I spent most of my time inside the mattress where she slept, burrowing as close as I could to Maman so that I could feel her solidity and heat spreading out above me without burrowing so close that I came in contact with the harsh light and cold air. It was a delightful spongiform environment, flecked with tinier insects—mites and flies and spiders—and with the crumbs of food and flakes of human skin on which the lesser creatures fed. Life was not hard for me there.

Kelly Loy Gilbert recently assigned this to her class at SF State and asked me to go and talk to them about it, so I ended up thinking about this one again. One of the questions they asked me was what inspired this novel. It’s not common to retain that kind of information, but in this case I vividly recall the inspiration. It was a line in David Markson’s novel This Is Not A Novel, which is a collection of facts about famous artists (if you haven’t gone through any of these Markson volumes, you should, they’re hypnotically readable, and there is a sort of narrative quality to them). The line is:

The little Marcel, at age fourteen, asked to name life’s greatest unhappiness: “To be separated from maman…”

There was something about that which was just so wonderful and plaintive. And from that seed (I read this book about three months before writing this story) came the whole narrative.

That detail is true. Other ones I remember, though, are false. For instance, I remember writing this story in one sitting, but that’s not the case. When I check my records, I see that I wrote it over three days, with about 2/5ths coming on the first day, 2/5ths on the second day, and 1/5th on the third. I do remember that this was around the time of the first season of Game of Thrones, and I remember being very impressed with how, in GoT, all the characters will eventually talk to and interact with each other. Which is to say that you get scenes in the show that you don’t get in the book: Jaime hanging out with Bronn, or Arya hanging out with Tywin Lannister–unlikely pairings, but interesting ones that reveal unknown facets of each character.

Thus, in writing this book I made an effort to make sure there were scenes between all three of the principal characters. I wanted three distinct relationships.

I remember that writing the story was very simple. It all came out on the first draft. At the time I was taking a writing class, but I didn’t even bother submitting this to workshop, because I knew it was already done. In the end all I did was fix some typos and minor wording issues and send it out.

My only real dissatisfaction with the story, even years later, is with the word “Maman.” I should have changed it to “Mama.” Ultimately I kept it because it felt so evocative to me, and it allowed me to feel the connection with Proust (which I was also reading that year). But the word is jarring and out of place. I should have, in the last draft, changed it to “Mama.”

3 thoughts on “Story Notes: “What Everyone Remembers”

  1. Anonymous

    I respectfully but totally disagree that you shouldn’t have used “Maman.” That word instantly let me know that the story’s situation and character were somehow alien to me, and that I was going to have to figure out what was going on over the course of the story. It sucked me right in. And the scene where the narrator explains that she got the name from Frederick’s books is a good moment that provides a little more information about all three characters.

      1. Dustin Katz

        It’s Dustin, from that SFSU class. I accidentally hit “post” before writing my name–sorry about that.

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