How I wrote the title story

I thought I’d write a few posts about the stories coming out in the new collection, many of which haven’t been published before.

“It’s Not Going to Kill You” is one of my favorite story titles of all time, if only because it’s what my mom used to say to my sister and I when we were kids. We grew up on a farm in Iowa seven miles from town, and unlike where I live today, we didn’t have quick access to a grocery store or other forms of entertainment. We drank powdered milk during snowstorms when we couldn’t get to town; we did real farm chores for our allowance; if you were bored it was your own fault for not being resourceful. “It’s not going to kill you” was my mother’s refrain after we sniffed something questionable from the fridge, or complained about not being able to watch TV before 7:00 p.m., or when she tried to serve us something that had fallen on the floor. According to family lore, one time she served us brownies that had dog prints in the frosting thanks to one low counter in the kitchen and a particularly resourceful springer spaniel.

I started this story years before I finished it. It was about a recently divorced mother who was hiding Girl Scout cookies in her bedroom closet (no comment on where that came from) and who had a child who was a biter (rather than the bitee he is in the final version) I couldn’t figure out what the story was about. It just seemed to be following a woman in a kind of shitty phase of her life who was doing a bit of wallowing and daydreaming to keep herself afloat, and after following the story long enough, I realized that was the point and had to trust it was enough. Sometimes things are bad but that doesn’t mean they’re going to stay bad forever, and despite our tendencies (or maybe just mine) to think we’re the only one in a crap phrase, if we can just step to the side of our own self-centeredness for a minute, it might be enough to bring us back to center. What I needed to worry about next was how to keep the reader’s attention. I hope I’ve counter-balanced the meandering plot with a thirty-something woman getting a gearshift bruise on her thigh from a make-out session in a pickup with her high school bully;some slipping into bad habits; raspberry doughnut filling mistaken for blood; and for those who like grilled cheese sandwiches, what borders on the erotic regarding details on how to make one.

I think this is an appropriate opening to the book. The characters, the setting, the mindset all seem representative of how many of my characters and I view the world. I love the stoicism of the Midwest, the general attitude that I live by to this day: buck up. Get over it. It’s not going to kill you.

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