On “Mothers” & the Process of Writing Pain

My story “Mothers” is in the newest issue of Interfictions. I want to talk for just a bit about this story, because I feel like the process of writing it was unusual but important to talk about.

I wrote the first half of “Mothers” several years ago, when I was mired deep in an abusive relationship that was still in blissful honeymoon stage. I got the idea for the story – two women who make a baby together – and wrote and wrote and wrote and then just… stopped. I didn’t lose interest, I didn’t pursue other things, I just slammed up against an invisible wall. I struggled with it for a bit – what happened next? What was this story about? – and then eventually dropped it into a file of abandoned and half-written stories and forgot about it.

Fast-forward to a year later: I finally managed to extract myself from the abusive relationship. I also somehow managed to finish my classes and my thesis, though how, I’m still not exactly sure. I was supposed to attend the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop that summer. I couldn’t have known when I applied to Clarion how badly I would need it – a place to get away from myself, a group of amazing and supportive human beings, distraction, a place to focus my energy and my work – but I careened away from Iowa City in my tiny car with clothes and weird stuff in laundry baskets bouncing in the back and a baseball bat in the passenger seat. I inched my way across the US, alone for days. When I arrived in San Diego, I was ready for anything.

At Clarion, you’re encouraged to write six brand-new stories, one per week, and avoid any “trunk stories” you have laying around. It’s a great system, and I mostly stuck to it – except there was one week where I dug “Mothers” (then called “Mother”) out of that file. I spent an afternoon on a balcony overlooking the fragrant, sunny campus, my bare feet resting on the peeling iron railing, re-reading what I’d written. And I realized, with horror, that my past-self had written this story romantically, because I’d been in love. But when I re-read it all I could see was claustrophobia, manipulation, latent terror. I cried. Then I wrote an ending. Because now I knew how it ended. I finally understood what my former self hadn’t – what the story was really about.

My Clarion class, led by the brilliant teaching team of Holly Black and Cassie Clare, workshopped the story and gave me lots of feedback. I took it back to Iowa, where I had a third year teaching fellowship, rewrote it, and shared it with my writing group. They also gave me a lot of feedback. I continued to work on it. My now-girlfriend, Val, observed that the story was a “raw howl of pain,” and that felt right. Sometimes fiction can be too painful to work on, too near, and I worked on it, backed off, worked on it again. It still feels like a rawl howl of pain, but one with definable borders, and that is something to be proud of, I think. And I love that this story has so many writer-fingerprints all over it, so much attention, so many mothers. I couldn’t have done it without these writing communities around me – these brilliant, thoughtful people. That is true for a lot of fiction, I think, but I’m not sure I could have ever fully shouldered the burden that was this particular story without them.

So I hope you enjoy “Mothers,” not to mention all of the other incredible fiction, nonfiction, and poetry at the new issue of Interfictions. 

2 thoughts on “On “Mothers” & the Process of Writing Pain

  1. Pingback: Read My Clever Friends | Eugene Fischer

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