What was the seed for “This is the Way I Die”?
I was going through a rather tumultuous period in my life, and I’d made the decision to focus on myself and not on things that were beyond my control. Not long after that, the opening section of this story blindsided me one day while I was working on something else. I wrote it down, set it aside, and a few days later, the rest came out in a rush. The story is very firmly fiction, but I think it’s impossible for writers not to bring something of themselves to the table.
The story moves between the literal and metaphorical: new eyes provide the ability to see color, but a new heart would erase the memories of love. Can you talk about how you approached the challenges of this juxtaposition?
Honestly, I didn’t see it as juxtaposition but as another stretch of the metaphorical flavor of the piece entire. When Lola Mae learns to see and feel things in a new way, without hurt and pain, she realizes she doesn’t need a new heart, doesn’t have to lose every bit of herself, in order to be whole.
Does the name “Lola Mae” have any significance?
I’ve written quite a few stories with unnamed protagonists, and I honestly thought this was going to be one of them. Then the issue of her name came up within the context of the story, so I knew I couldn’t leave her nameless, but I also knew I couldn’t just give her any name. I wanted something that whispered, but didn’t scream, sadness. Lola is the diminutive form of the name Dolores, which is Spanish for sorrows, and Mae is a Hebrew name meaning bitter. When I added the last name Blue, I loved the cadence, and more importantly, the name felt right for the character.
How did your vision for this story change along the way?
After I wrote the opening section, I thought the story was going to be about a woman transformed into a monster, and I nicknamed it my Godzilla girl story. When I added the line “I’m drowning when I come to you,” I realized it was about a different sort of transformation, that what Lola Mae wanted, and needed, was not necessarily to be a monster, but to be strong enough to fight against the damage left behind by the other monsters she’s known.
Lola appears to emulate the cruel behavior of others that has hurt her so deeply: she takes so much and then just turns away—or has she too given something back?
I knew in my heart that Lola Mae didn’t have a choice. In order to survive, she had to leave, because in leaving, she slayed the last monster inside her—fear.
The story was never meant to be a happy ever after for Lola and her artist/creator. I think perhaps what she gave him was a sense of selfless purpose. He listened to her, he was there for her, and he helped her chip away all the broken pieces to unveil the woman she was meant to be.
The story of Pygmalion and Galatea echoes through “This is the Way I Die”—are there any other takes on Ovid’s Metamorphoses which you’ve enjoyed?
My Fair Lady with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison is the first one that comes to mind. Although Henry Higgins takes credit for the changes in Eliza Doolittle, the truth is that she does all the work. I would have preferred a different ending, with her making her own way in the world, because if she wasn’t good enough for him until she changed, I don’t think he deserved her at all.
The Stepford Wives is a darker take on Pygmalion. Instead of a statue, you have a town full of perfect, robotic wives. The novel and the movie are obviously products of the seventies, when women were breaking out of traditional roles, yet even now the concept resonates because how many women alter themselves to fit a supposed ideal?
In both cases, though, the original ideas of transformation did not belong to the women, and that is something I definitely did not want with my own story, nor did I want the artist/creator to change Lola Mae into his vision of what she should be.
Can you talk about how you ended up with the title that you did?
The first title for the story was “The Breaking of a Girl,” but after I’d named the main character and finished the first draft, I changed it to “The Reclamation of Lola Mae Blue” because the story was about so much more than breaking. I submitted the story with that title, but John asked if I’d be willing to come up with a darker, more evocative title, so I spent a few days wracking my brain and reading poetry for inspiration. I came up with a few ideas, some based on poetry, some not, and then I came across this piece from Emily Dickinson:
She died—this was the way she died;
And when her breath was done,
Took up her simple wardrobe
And started for the sun.
The first line struck a chord in me because the story is about death in a sense, the death, and subsequent healing, of the self. I altered the line a bit, sent all my ideas to John, and we both picked this as the favorite.
Any new projects you want to tell us about?
I have a short fiction collection, a mix of reprints and new stories, coming out later this year from Apex Publications. I also have short fiction forthcoming in several magazines, I’m busy writing pieces for several anthology invites, and I’m working on a novel framed in a series of intertwined short stories.
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