Behind the Story
Thank you for reading this far. As a reward for sticking with the book, I’ll give some background information on Shell Out 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 Quick Note: Even though “Shell Out” is a short work, I’ve gone back to it often over the years, trying to decide if this is really how I want it to begin, or if this sequence is strong enough to move the story forward, or if this ending works to resolve the story, and so on. The more I write and the more I study the techniques of storytelling, the more I want to apply what I’ve learned to stories I’ve already finished. And “Shell Out” is one of my test canvases for improvement.
However, now that I’ve done just about all I can do without oversaturating it with ideas or undercutting its theme, I’m officially pushing it out to the public. Doesn’t mean I think it’s ready for the public; I’m never ready to publish anything I’ve written. Like most authors, I keep wondering if there is anything, anything at all, that I could’ve done better. Chances are, a few months or years down the road, I’ll learn yet another storytelling method that’ll convince me I published this thing prematurely. But, like all artistic works, there comes a point when I just have to believe in it and move on to other things. So here you go. Hope you enjoyed it.
A Brief History: I first conceptualized “Shell Out” in 2002 while I was working at a hospital. I was at my desk, listening to an evening radio show, when the hosts challenged callers to talk about the stuff they had tried selling on eBay. One caller, whom the DJs must’ve thought was a troll–they hung up on him–said he had tried selling his underwear on eBay. Whether it was true or not, I thought it was funny. And it got me thinking about the lengths people might go to earn an extra buck, including selling crap no one wants on eBay. It was then that I had remembered that I’d wanted to write a joke involving the Psychic Friends Hotline (where the psychic predicts catastrophe on the caller, and it comes true, rather than the expected “you’ll find love tomorrow” nonsense they used to advertise on TV) into something, anything, and I realized that a story about making a buck in ridiculous ways was the perfect source to bring that joke into play. And the timing was great because one of my coworkers had a girlfriend who worked for a psychic call center at one time, so he gave me insight about the telephone psychic business, like how smoky the environment could get in those offices and how they use psychology and listening skills to “predict” futures, among other things. With that and the eBay joke, I thought I had a winning combination for writing about the absurdity in alternative moneymaking.
As much as I wanted to see where this could go, however, I didn’t finish drafting the story in one sitting. At the time, I was juggling a number of projects, including an attempt to adjust to emotional instability while patiently waiting for my proper financial window to make returning to college and actually finishing my degree possible (in that regard, Greg, the main character, and I had a lot in common). It took me until 2005, when I buckled down and finished several short stories to complete a self-published collection of works, to finish the first version of “Shell Out.” By that point I was so proud of the story that I didn’t think it needed extensive editing, so in November 2006, I published it in the print version of my third collection of works, called Seven-Sided Dice: The Collection of Junk Volume3, and left it alone, thinking it was great, until years later when I discovered that I could have, in fact, made it better. In 2011, I took it through another edit, and in 2015, after reading an excellent book about openings called Hooked by Les Edgerton, I took it through one more major edit, separated it into seven parts, and now I think it’s done for good.
So that’s some background on “Shell Out.” I admit I had shallow reasons for starting it in 2002, but with real-life economy breaking down in the season since I’d first published it in my print volume, and with my own experiences of financial distress persisting throughout its development, it’s become one of my most valuable works (no pun or sense of irony intended).
Is this the end of “Shell Out” then? Hard to say. Although I have no plans to update it further, I would like to someday include it in a new volume of short stories geared entirely around the theme of “economic survival.” We’ll see how that goes.
Update April 2020: This new edition comes up on the five-year anniversary of the original e-book release, and given the current coronavirus crisis gripping the world and endangering the global economy, now couldn’t be a better time to reintroduce the story. And it comes with a new opening chapter to help readers orient to Greg’s conflict better. As I said in the original author’s note, I’ve always struggled with how this story opened. I still don’t know if this is the right place to tell Greg’s story, so I have another alternate in the waiting (about Greg getting in a car accident) if I ever decide to rewrite this story from scratch (a real possibility). But for this version of “Shell Out,” I think it works.
Anyway, if you’re reading this during the global quarantine, stay safe. If you’re reading this long after COVID-19 has made the history books, then congratulations on living during a time of economic prosperity, assuming that’s how life is at the time of your reading. It’s certainly not that way at the time of this writing.