After I graduated from the University of Michigan, I got my first grownup job as the Undergraduate Secretary in the English Department. It turned out to be a hell job that had burned out the last several women who’d held the position. It was a measure of how desperate the department was that they hired a 23-year-old who had only one year of secretarial experience to deal with several thousand undergrad English majors.
A perk of the job was that I could audit all the creative writing classes in the department. I sat in on beginning classes and MFA workshops, learning the focuses of the different teachers and reading no end of shitty roommate stories. To be honest, telling a class of 20-somethings to write what they know is going to lead to a lot of shitty roommate stories. I wrote mine as a parody of the others.
The influences of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and the photography of Joel-Peter Witkin and David Wojnarowicz are clear, but I want to acknowledge some of the other inspirations in the story.
Several of the elements of “Still Life with Shattered Glass” were drawn from real life. A news photo of the card on the dashboard beneath the head-sized hole in the windshield is something I saw in high school after one of the football players was killed in a car accident. In that case, it was a graduation card on the dashboard.
The girl who jumped from University Towers really happened while I lived in Ann Arbor. I never saw a photo of her, but I was thinking of the photo of Evelyn McHale, the woman who jumped off the Empire State Building, when I described her.
If you struggle with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
The story was originally written with a male point of view character. It was almost accepted to be published in that form, but the magazine made their acceptance contingent on changing the main character to a woman so she wouldn’t be in a gay relationship with her male roommate. That was the first time I ever withdrew a story, rather than make an editorial change.
When I met Thomas Roche, I pitched him the story for his Noirotica anthologies. He said he didn’t get enough lesbian stories, so I revised the story to make the main character a bisexual woman. Thomas accepted the story, but the anthology was never published.
At the 2005 World Horror Convention, several of the publishers got together to judge a fiction challenge. I submitted my story, but since I didn’t expect this jinxed story to win, I didn’t plan to attend the award ceremony. Luckily, Kelly Laymon tracked me down and strongly encouraged me to go. “Still Life with Shattered Glass” took 3rd place and won a nice monetary award.
I submitted the story to Cemetery Dance magazine, one of the judges of the contest. Thanks to more behind the scenes help by Kelly, it was published in Cemetery Dance #54 in March 2006.
When John Everson approached me about his Sins of the Siren project, he wanted to publish two new stories and two previously published stories. I revised “Still Life with Shattered Glass,” made it sexier, and he accepted it for the book. I was thrilled to have my stories appear alongside Maria Alexander, Christa Faust, and Mehitobel Wilson.
Which brings us up to Tales for the Camp Fire. Initially I was going to include a different story in that book, but then I read Ben Monroe’s submission. Our stories were very similar — kids on bikes riding down rutted paths, clandestine swimming holes, death — so I pulled my initial submission and swapped in “Still Life.” I can say it’s like nothing else in the book.
I hope you’ll check it out for yourself. The profits from sales of Tales for the Camp Fire go to raise money for the North Valley Community Foundation, which supports survivors and recovery from last year’s devastating wildfire in Butte County, California.
The book is available for the kindle and in paperback on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2GtGCH8
I guess “Still Life With Shattered Glass” just needed the right place to call home. What a nice way to help victims of Butte County’s fire.
It sounds like a good story for a good cause. Interesting background on its evolution.