Behind the Story
Thank you for reading this far. As a reward for sticking with the book, I’ll give some background information on Gutter Child in case you’re the type of person who enjoys the “Special Features” selection on Blu-rays and DVDs (or whatever you use to watch movies at the time of this reading).
A Brief History: In early 1999, I took a class on writing fiction at UCF, as a follow-up to my creative writing class the semester before, and for my major assignments I had three full-length short stories to write and revise. The first, a coming of age story called “The Fallen Footwear,” which you’ll get to read an updated version of very soon, is about a young adult’s attempt to cope with the sudden abandonment of his much-loved girlfriend. The second, a desert fantasy called “Eve of Construction,” which I will not be redoing any time soon (but will after I write two or three prequels for it) is about a man getting banished from his city and sent on a quest to receive judgment for his crimes at a tower among the dunes. The third is “Gutter Child.”
When I wrote “Gutter Child,” I was attempting to cut against the grain. As a 22-year-old man, I was a fan of action, fantasy, and tales of hopeless romantics trying to win at life. But I was also a fan of improving and diversifying my craft. So when I thought about what to do for my final story of the semester, I figured I’d try something original, something I thought would make for a decent story, something that would challenge me as a writer. So I wrote the story of an eight-year-old girl breaking out of an orphanage, just to stumble on another discarded child who needed her help. I had it critiqued, many of the students agreed that it was a clever idea that needed work, and I fixed the main issues, like the legality of an old woman keeping two runaway children who did not belong to her without contacting the police or DCF first. Then I tucked it away into my thick binder to be forgotten, until 2004 when I dusted off my first round of stories (including the three listed above) for my first volume of The Collection of Junk series, which I called Nomadic Souls: The Collection of Junk, Volume 1 (no longer available for sale).
The problem I had with “Gutter Child” as a published work was simply a matter of image. By the time I was ready to push Nomadic Souls out onto the world, in a place where nobody would ever find it, I was a 28-year-old man, and I had no idea what business I, a 28-year-old man, had writing a story from the perspective of an eight-year-old girl. I was never an eight-year-old girl. Never had an idea what it was like being an eight-year-old girl. I thought it would never work in reality, even if the story itself was okay. So I wrote a frame about the baby growing up into an 18-year-old boy (something I actually was, once upon a time) and getting ready to go off to college when he finds his sister’s book and discovers his past, which, as of that 1999-2004 version, was the real story. In that version, he confronts his mom, she admits he and Beth were adopted, and then there’s something about his pet frog hopping away and his mom, even though she’s his adopted mother, still knowing how to read his mind, and it was just stale in retrospect. I didn’t care for the frame then—I definitely don’t care for it now—so I thought I needed to give it a newer one: a much crazier, interesting, disturbing frame.
The new frame is much longer than the old, and it deals with far more complicated issues than the main character finding out he might be adopted. The stuff with Melanie was actually layered in about halfway through the rewrite when I realized I needed a different conflict perpetuating the agony of the core conflict. If anything, it’s what makes the core conflict worse than it should be. In reality, Jimmy finding out he might be adopted isn’t as earth-shattering as he might make it seem. But with everything else crumbling around him, especially his relationship with Melanie taking the turn it does, all while he tries to adapt to a life away from home for the first time in one of the worst places to experience independence, and it suddenly becomes near impossible for him to stomach. I think if I had stuck to just the main conflict, the new frame would’ve been as dull as the old one.
That said, I think this is the right version of the story now. Is it the final? I don’t know. I may punch it up a little for Zippywings 2016, which if you don’t know by now, will be the annual collection of short stories and novellas I release this year in paperback form. Note: The 2015 edition is already available and features eight of the ten stories I released in e-book form from May to December 2015, with the other two being novel length and too long for a paperback. But I digress. There’s a chance I may update “Gutter Child” later this year when I’ve had more time to reflect on it. One of the problems with trying to release at least one story a month for an entire year, which I’ve already blown for January thanks to distraction and exhaustion (this was supposed to release last month, with “The Fallen Footwear” having February all to itself), is that I don’t have much time to decide if the story works until after it’s released. However, if you’re reading this, and if you think it’s as perfect as it needs to be, then please let me know in a review. But don’t worry; I’ll figure it out for myself, eventually.
Update 2018: Time away from a project allows us perspective that we don’t have during its creation. This version reflects the time I’d spent away from the version I wrote in 2016. There isn’t much to say about it, really. I just found a few areas in need of improvement and improved them. Most of the new material (the fraternity and role-playing group) are there to soften the constant downward drive the last version takes the reader on. Not everything can contribute to the main character’s misery, so I wanted to be sure he has moments of joy to keep him from going insane. That’s primarily how this version differs from the last. I also wanted to make sure I addressed any character discrepancy that may have survived the 2016 edition.
Also a separate note: I never produced Zippywings 2016, nor do I plan to now. As of this writing, there is no paperback version of this story. However, there may be a novelized version in the future, which will go well beyond the adoption mystery featured here. In fact, this story will likely become a subplot to a bigger story that I’ve already got ideas for developing. Consult my blog or mailing list for more information on that version as it develops.