Stories are strange.
So, my story Mouths Filled with Seawater will be published at the start of next month (not, as I thought, next week) and since it’s my first big publication I thought I’d write something about it.
I reread the first draft just now and I honestly didn’t hate it. This is not to say that it’s perfect (can they ever be?) or that I had things down as they should be. But structurally there’s something solid about it.
In my memory the story came together quickly, written in the local library here in Dundalk, free-associating like a disgraced actor in a detective’s office – (question: is this how all stories are formed, consciously or not?) – from things that were in my immediate psychological and physical vicinity.
The setting is a shimmery, out-of-focus version of my hometown. The psychologist-type figure was named for my friend Aidan studying beside me for his course in Queens. And the confused and obsessive narrator is as much me as all characters are their authors – more or less.
“Mouths…” in its first incarnation was written during Richard Thomas’ Contemporary Dark Fiction class in late 2017.
At the time I’d returned to Ireland after four years of living in a small town in Japan. It was a jarring experience in some ways and in other ways it felt natural and inevitable.
It was abroad that I’d started writing. I’d always wanted to write, had written stories before, but in Toyama all my friends were creative in many jealousy-inducing ways. The good writers though spurred me to keep working harder. (Shout out to Tom & Lily <3)
Joining the class in 2017 almost felt full circle ‘cause my first writing class had been with Richard over on Litreactor in early 2014. It was encouraging comments like below that made me feel like I could actually write something half-decent to begin with.
Now, back in Dundalk, I was without my peers but still writing and dealing with reverse culture shock. Being a fish out of water, in my own home.
Having spent so long surrounded by Americans and New Zealanders and Canadians and, of course, Japanese my language had changed. The way I interpreted things was off.
Not wrong, but different.
In Japan, I’d done away with Irish/Dundalk slang to avoid confusion. Japanese phrases were sprinkled throughout my vernacular. And I spoke purposefully slower for my high school students or my English-speaking Japanese friends. Now, at home, I was surrounded by my fast-talking, quick-witted, slang-obsessive friends. And it was exhausting.
Sometimes I’d go home to my parents’ house after a few hours with friends just ‘cause I was so tired from trying to keep up with a regular conversation.
Darina, my narrator, feels uncomfortable, too. She’s confused. She’s alone. She doesn’t speak the language of her peers, emotional or otherwise. And she’s trying to find some way to belong. She doesn’t handle anything well. Old relationships don’t work, if they ever had. And she retreats into a world of dreams and half-truths.
In a way I was writing out my own worst fears about my relationships and my life.
Though I wasn’t obsessively stalking anyone, I went to all the same places she did. I saw a cool art exhibition so into the story it went. I’d gone to the swimming pool and had a strained conversation with a staff member while I struggled to interpret social cues. I didn’t have a therapist but every Tuesday night at an ungodly hour I logged onto Skype and talked to strangers halfway across the world about stories.
It’s only writing it all out now that I realise how much that story actually means to me, and how glad I am now that it’s my introduction to the publishing world. It’s strange to think all those parts of me were buried there, waiting to be found or not.
Not much has changed from the original first draft. Not the intent or the feeling. Ray Bradbury suggests stories should be written quickly, to provide them with a good skin.
But it’s a different sort of skin than I’d have imagined. It functions almost like a cloak. An ill-fitting one. It obscures aspects of itself and there are raw, exposed parts I hope no one ever notices.
It’s 2 and a half years later and Ireland is home for me, properly, once more. But I hope I can write more stories like that and that they continue to surprise me years later. I hope I’ll always find meaning in those buried places, and I hope they give meaning to other people, too.
Mouths Filled with Seawater will be published on April 3rd in ARTERIAL BLOOM from Crystal Lake Publishing.