The Story Behind the Story: Backstage With the Hypothetical Dead (#SFWApro)

As I noted Sunday, Backstage With the Hypothetical Dead is now live at On the Premises. The “second place” is because they structure each issue as a contest, and I came in second (obviously). Which was good enough to get published (and paid!) so here’s the story on how it came to be.

Back in 2012, when I read the seminal urban fantasy War for the Oaks, I commented that all the stuff about the protagonist putting a band together became very boring as the book went on. I added I’d have been more interested, maybe, if they’d been working in theater, which is much closer to my heart than music.

Then I reflected that there’s very little theater in specfic. Lots of music — Mercedes’ Lackey’s Bedlam’s Bard, Charles deLint’s buskers and Irish fiddlers — but not much theater. And then I thought hmm, why grumble about it when you could be writing a specfic theater story. So I started work on The Stage is a World, a story that begins with one of the backstage crew discovering a ghost and reacting very loudly — audible to the audience loudly. This did not go over well, particularly with Janice, the stage manager, who came close to kicking him off the show. But didn’t. And then, of course, the ghost returns …

After several drafts, I discovered two apparently intractable problems. I had Janice and Tony, my protagonist, becoming a couple, and that didn’t seem to work. And no explanation I came up with for the ghost seemed to work at all. And while I liked the structure — the ghost appears during different shows in the course of a community theater’s year — I worried it was too inside baseball (the setting is modeled on the group I worked with for years). I read Fritz Leiber’s Four Ghosts in Hamlet for inspiration but that didn’t help.

I eventually decided I’d set Tony and Janice to being friends, instead. And I’d leave the nature of the ghost, who it was, why it was, completely ambiguous. When I read it to the writer’s group, however, the consensus seemed to be that I had no conclusion — everything was too ambiguous. My best friend and fellow writer Cindy Holbrook said it needed more of a personal arc too.

So back to work. I decided the personal arc was the key to having a satisfying ending, so I de-aged Tony, made him a relative rookie with the theater group, and watched him slowly meld into the community over the course of the year. And I had the ghost do something definite at the climax, it’s just that nobody’s sure what or why. I thought that set the balance just right.

Then came submission. Then came rejection. One magazine said it simply wandered in the middle sections, which was a fair criticism, but I decided to keep it the way it was. Then I saw On the Premises was holding a contest for an upcoming issue in which the theme was community, and becoming part of a community. That fit so perfectly, I submitted. And sold it!

Go, read. Enjoy. And as proof of my theater bonafides, here’s a shot of my with one of my two awards from when I was with Act4Murder dinner theater.

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Filed under Short Stories, Story behind the story

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