• Photo courtesy of Awkward Family Photos.

    My brother-in-law gave me an Awkward Family Photo desk calendar as a white elephant Christmas gift back in 2009. I worked my way through the horrifying daily photos until sometime late in 2010 I came across a family posed, each member holding a different kind of snake. One of the kids had a haunted look in her eyes, like something off-frame was troubling her.

  • I started drafting the story on December 12, 2010. I draft in single space and save a new file after each writing session. Sometimes a story, especially a short one, will present itself right away. This one took about ten hit-and-miss sessions over the course of a little over a month to complete a first draft.

  • It’s a short short piece, so I was able to read through it each time and edit out any clunkiness misspellings, etc. Here, I excised a little bit of mean-spirited stereotyping, added some clarity, took away some excess. I realized the setting needed to be in a place where snakes could live outside year-round in a “back lean-to,” yet where freezing black ice could be a possibility. A quick internet research session put me in Alabama where tupelo trees are common and abundant. I also found a link to a video of “Sweet Home Alabama.” Wasted twenty minutes on that trying to figure out how Neil Young pissed off those boys in the band so much.

  • The title came to me soon after I wrote the line within the body of the story: “Look This Way, Look That.” I promptly put it at the top of the draft, then promptly changed it again when another, seemingly more interesting title came out of the writing. I tinkered with the story for a couple of more sessions, and then, feeling pretty good about it, I made some minor changes, formatted it to spec, put my name and address in the top left, and submitted to a journal known for quick turnaround. Five days later I had my first rejection. Nonplussed, I sent it out to six more venues within the year. Six more rejections. I sent it nowhere in 2012.

    Stupid family snake photo story, anyway.

  • I once wrote a short short story in first person POV, past tense. It was a good story, and I submitted it all over the place with rejection after rejection. On a desperate whim I switched POV and tense to second-person present. Entered it in a contest. Won.

    So I did the same with this one. I also went back to my original title. Sent it out six more times, and finally it stuck.

    I wonder if there isn’t a thrilling intimacy with second-person POV? My story that won the contest had a scene with a young newlywed couple sharing a very, um, close moment in a big bathtub while listening to their upstairs neighbors have a nasty brawl. First-person POV sometimes lends itself to an incredulity in the reader, I think. Why should we trust this guy to describe how it feels to him to have sex in a tub, or have his ex-wife’s boyfriend knock a tooth out, or feel the snake he loves cut off blood circulation to his brain?

    But if you, the reader, are the one, the character, moving through the text of a very short story, you can let your guard down for a moment and ache on the rough, frosty pavement of a parking lot in December; you can see your ex-wife’s bald betrayal right there in front of your son; you can feel the cold blood warm in a creature coming in out of the cold, coming in finally, and finding its hunger.