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Shaping the Story

Parallax, even though it is only a short 7800-word story, has been a labor of tears and love.  It began to take shape in 2005 as an assignment to write a 2000-word story based off of a settings exercise depicted in our class text.  Karen Blomain, my professor, gave a week for the assignment to be completed.  There was just another student and I in the class, which was about how to write short fiction.  As luck would have it, the class quickly turned into one-on-one lessons between Professor Blomain and I after the other student dropped the class.

I can honestly say, the short fiction class was the most impactful class that I have ever experienced.  My entire life was completely shaken up by it.  I had always enjoyed writing, but after that Spring of 2005 semester was over, I fell in love with writing.  Professor Blomain taught me how to write what is in my heart.  And through her teachings, she became my mentor, whose wisdom I reflect upon each and every day.

When Parallax first began, it was dripping with the macabre.  I was horrified that I could write something so dark.  I was afraid that readers would think of me as some kind of malicious sociopath who needed to be locked up.   The entire night I tossed and turned in bed with worry that people would fear me.

The next morning, I drove slowly to campus and walked even slower to Lytle hall.  As I made my way into her office, Professor Blomain turned to me with a dazzling smile.  “I have been anticipating this all day,” she said. “Let me see it.”

I pulled the printed story from the folder clutched in my left hand and handed it to her.  “I am sorry, “ I said quietly.

She gave me a quizzical look and then went straight to reading the assignment.  I quietly sat down on the chair she had set up for me next to her desk.  Her eyes flickered across the page and she inhaled sharply a few times.   Her perfectly manicured hands gripped the pages, leaving slight crinkles.  My hands began to sweat and I wiped them on my jeans.  I looked out the window behind her and urged time to move faster.  I wanted this to be over. I wanted to leave.

The shuffle of the papers broke me out of the trance.  I looked at her.  Her eyes were wide.  She dropped her hands and the pages heavily in her lap and just looked at me.  As she locked her eyes onto mine she said in a breathy, yet steady tone, “You have a gift.  I have not felt this terrified from reading a story in a very long time.”  She then smiled and leaned towards me, “Horror is your calling.”

“You don’t think I am crazy?” I asked.

“Amanda, no.  I would think you crazy to not write more of this.”

And there was the approval and acceptance I sought.  Here was the first person telling me that it was okay to write like this.  It was okay to have my genre to be seeded in dark fiction.

From that point I grew more daring.  The horror aspect gave me inspiration to find that courage.  It was the dichotomy of courage and fear that I was lured to.  And I wanted to express that in my writing.  Horror was my vessel to provide the fear and to enhance the courage of characters that sought to over come that fear.

Parallax took on this symbiotic relationship of fear/courage.  The story became larger, more horrific and suspenseful.  It grew a climax, an epiphany, and a well-deserved ending.  The hero of the story found his courage.

Countless times the story was edited, revised, torn to pieces, and again rewritten.  Then finally, one day Parallax made its first submission.  Within three weeks it was rejected.  So it made another submission and was again rejected.  Over and over again the process continued.  Over and over again, I was told that horror was not a good market and I should find something else.  But I stood tenacious.  I just kept repeating the words that Professor Blomain told me, “I would think you crazy to not write more of this”.

After graduation at the end 2005, I still continued submission attempts and Parallax continued to fail.  Other stories of the macabre came and went.  They were darker, some more gruesome, and like Parallax, were never accepted either.

I kept in contact with Professor Blomain for a couple of years after graduation.  I always informed her on how the “horror” writing was proceeding, she would tell me of her travels and what current projects she had in the pipeline.

Sometime in 2008, we sort of stopped communicating.  I like to think it was because we had both had become so busy with our lives.

In 2011, I was approached by Phil Giunta to have Parallax be apart of a Sci-fi, Fantasy, and Paranormal anthology that he wanted to put together.  I had left him read the story one day out of the blue and he just loved it.  To prepare for publication, Parallax went through another round of being torn to pieces and sewn back together. My writing style had changed drastically since its conception in 2005.  My voice had become darker, my tone was sharper, and I found a knack for terrorizing my protagonists past her or her limits – testing the strength of his or her courage.

The official word came in late 2011 / early 2012 that the Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity anthology was going to be produced, and I then had my first hand experience of what goes into the publishing process.   At around the same time that the organizing of the anthology was beginning, I had stumbled across Professor Blomain’s professional website.  There, she had events listed where she would be speaking and workshops that she would be hosting.  One such event that grabbed my attention was her workshop at the writer’s retreat, Anam Cara, in Beara, county Cork, Ireland for the Spring of 2013.

I was elated.  There was a chance that the anthology would release in 2013.  What better way to celebrate my first published story than with the person who was there from the tale’s beginning and in the country in which the story is set!

I sent a quick email letting her know the exciting news about Parallax, asking her about her successful novel publications and screenplay, and that I was looking to attend her upcoming writing workshop at Anam Cara.

She never sent a reply and I just chalked it up that she was extremely busy.  She was traveling the world, giving seminars, and working on the final novel in her trilogy.  I knew at some point I would speak with her.

Over time I became immersed in writing other stories, work, and just overall daily life.  However, the trip to Anam Cara and getting the chance to tell Professor Blomain in person how much she had inspired me was always on my mind.  The trip could not come soon enough.

On August 29, 2012, I had saved up enough money for the trip and the workshop. It would be a day that I will never forget.  I went to her website to book the trip.

The words on her website’s home page are forever seared in my brain.

A banner appeared on the top of the home page, something that I have never seen before.  At first the words did not register.  I think I read the banner 10 times before the realization of what was being said hit me.  The banner indicated that Karen Blomain had passed away on August 15th.

It was like the world was ripped out from underneath me. My mentor was gone.  I would never be able to tell her how much of an impact she had on my life.   That I kept writing because she told me to.  She was the first person to ever take interest in my written word and the first person ever to tell me that I had a gift.

Her words of  “I would think you crazy to not write more of this” are only just memories that resided only in my mind now.

This upcoming April with the release of the Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity anthology, which will contain Parallax, will be bittersweet. It is with pure, raw excitement that I can announce that my laborious tale of tears and terror is finally being published.  But I cannot hide the fact that there is a great hole in my heart because I will not be able to share this joy with the one person who first believed in me as an author.

I am so very lucky to have had her in my life.

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7 thoughts on “Shaping the Story

  1. Pingback: Somewhere in the Middle of Eternity | Amanda Headlee

  2. One of my favorite quotes is this: “A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove… but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.” Forest E. Witcraft (1894-1967); Teacher, Scholar

    Although you technically weren’t a “child” at the time, it’s clear that the world is different because someone was important in *your* life. Some people never have a chance for that *someone* to make that sort of difference. Embrace it. Pay it forward and do what *you* can do make a difference in the life of another.

    I’m sorry for your loss, and best of luck with the anthology.

  3. I just sat down to re-read this, Amanda, and I’m struck again how wonderfully you put words together. I didn’t know this about Parallax, but I knew you’d held it close for a long time. I’ll read it again as a tribute to your mentor. *hug*

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