The Plan: A Short Short Story

Way back in 2004, I began working on my first novel.  It was a terrifying prospect, since I'd no idea how to write one. It seemed like the next logical step to take in my writing journey, however, since I'd been studying creative writing as an English major at Cal State San Bernardino, while also writing several short stories. In the summer of that same year, I was invited to attend the Squaw Valley Community of Writers annual fiction workshop.

This was terribly exciting, as two years earlier I'd been placed on the waiting list for an invite, before not getting in.  Squaw Valley has a great tradition of helping along the careers of some terrific writers—among them, Michael Chabon, Janet Fitch, and Amy Tan. So, as you might imagine, I was over the moon. During my week-long stay at Squaw Valley, I met a literary agent who'd founded one of those fancy New York agencies most aspiring writers know about. He took a liking to me and asked if I was working on anything. I told him I was writing my first novel, before proceeding to give, perhaps, the worst book pitch in the history of all humanity.

The agent was kind and patient and, when I mercifully cut myself off, he asked me to send him the book when it was done.  He also told me not to rush. So, of course, as soon as I got home, I started working like mad, rushing my maiden novel into existence. I sat in my room, isolated from the world, and wrote and wrote and wrote for hours at a time. I was making great headway, when I came across a writing contest being hosted by the Inland Empire Branch of the California Writers Club. The contest included a category for short fiction and the prize was $150.

I was feeling awfully good after my week at Squaw Valley and, as a poor college student, that $150 prize sounded nice, so I decided to take a break from my novel to write a story for the contest. The theme of the contest was "Secrets," so I came up with a simple story about a boy and a girl, teenagers each of them. They were making plans for their future, only one of them was keeping their plans a secret.

The story was semi-inspired by Ernest Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants," which was about a man and a woman having an ambiguous conversation outside of a train station; the conversation itself, it's been argued, involves the man trying to convince the woman to have an abortion. The conversation in "Hills Like White Elephants" is cryptic and nowhere in the story is it ever explicitly stated that the woman is pregnant. I liked that idea, so I wanted to write a story where a guy and girl were having an important conversation, without ever explicitly stating what they were talking about.

I was also inspired by Kate Chopin's short story "The Story of an Hour," which is about a woman who is thrilled to learn of her husbands death in a train accident, as it means she will be liberated from him; when he returns home that same day, revealing the news of his death to be a mistake, the wife suddenly dies.

"The Story of an Hour" is very short, but packs a huge emotional punch. I'd always been taken with Chopin's ability to pack such a huge emotional impact into such a short, short story, so this also became one of my goals. After three days of writing, I finished a 900 word short story called "The Plan."

I sent if off to the IECWC and got back to work on my novel.  A few months later, I heard back from them and found out that "The Plan" had won first place.

In the weeks before I won the IECWC's contest, I'd finished that first novel I was working on. After rushing it off to the agent whom I'd met at Squaw Valley, I waited for two months, before hearing back. The agent responded with a letter—which I received on my birthday—rejecting my novel.

So, "The Plan," which was only ever meant to be a brief interlude in the completion of my first novel, became the only writing of consequence I did that summer. The novel in question, to this day, has yet to see the light of day. "The Plan," however, not only became the first piece of writing I'd ever earned money for, but now, thanks to Exciting Press, is getting a second shot at life.

In November of 2012, Exciting Press published "The Plan: A Short Short Story" and I couldn't be happier about it.

The Evolution of "Footsteps"

In April of 2012, I signed a deal with Exciting Press to publish six short stories.

And on June 18, 2012, "Footsteps," the first of those stories was published. The story follows Rusty Hankover, a young man who hates his abusive father and loves rich women's feet in equal measures. When Rusty's dad comes up missing, his tabloid-loving mom is convinced he's become the latest victim of the Back Alley Cannibal. A chance encounter with a woman and her daughter will ultimately reveal the dark, grisly truth.

Many of my readers will recognize the theme of cannibalism in "Footsteps," as it plays a central role in my debut novel Inside the Outside. I first became fascinated with writing cannibal literature in 2001, while I was studying English at California State University, San Bernardino. I was taking a humanities course called Interoperation and Values, which, among other things, illuminated the world of corporate farming. I was struck by the abuse animals are made to endure in such farms and, having discovered this emotional chord, decided I wanted to articulate it in a story. I quickly realized, however, that (unless your George Orwell) writing about farm animals wasn’t a particularly dynamic idea.

During that same quarter CSUSB, I was also taking a creative writing class. The professor assigned us a sci-fi story to read about about aliens enslaving humans; upon reading it, she explained that the story was an allegory. This was the first time I could remember being introduced to the idea of an allegory, which Wikipedia defines as a literary device that "communicates its message by means of symbolic figures, actions or symbolic representation." I loved this and decided I could use it to articulate the emotional chord I'd felt about farm animals by writing an allegorical story about people eating people.

I began brainstorming a short story idea about a cannibal farm. The more I developed it the bigger it got until, eventually, it became too big for my still-developing skill set. Before I gave up on the short story, I'd come up with a homeless mother and daughter, both of whom were cannibals. The mother killed people in order to feed herself and her daughter; the daughter didn't know there was anything strange about eating people, because it's all she knew. They weren't the main characters in my cannibal farm story, but they were the ones who stuck with me the longest. I didn't know what to do with them, but I knew that, eventually, I'd revisit that mother and daughter again.

A few years later, during a trip to Las Vegas, I was sitting in the dressing room of Rampage, while my girlfriend tried on clothes. As I sat there, it occurred to me that nobody knew who I was there with; for all they knew, I was just sitting in there by myself staring at feet beneath the dressing room doors.

Amused by this idea, I decided to write a short story about a guy who hangs out in women's dressing rooms under the pretense that he's waiting for his wife or girlfriend, but really he's just being a voyeur. I found that while I liked the premise, there wasn't enough there to turn it into a compelling story. So, like a mad scientist, I decided to combine the idea of the voyeuristic foot fetishist with the idea about the cannibal mother and daughter to see what that story would look like.

And that's how "Footsteps" was born.

Not long after I wrote it in 2005, "Footsteps" was published in The Pacific Review. It was the last short story I wrote, before concentrating my efforts on becoming a novelist. To my mind, it's always been the stepping stone that led to Inside the Outside, so I'm thrilled that fans of my novel can now see where my fascination with cannibal literature began.