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  • Writer's pictureRachel E. Pollock

Backstory: Reflected Light/Luce Reflessa

So, this picture is me holding up the Italian zine Ruggine, open to a page in the translation of my short story, "Reflected Light." The illustration is by Cosimo Mazzoni.

This short story only exists by accident, or by virtue of the collision between writer's block and sheer cussedness. See, i was working on the draft of an as-yet-unfinished novel called The Dicely Talekeepers by way of Nanowrimo, and i had hit the wall with my plot--i needed to generate words to stay on schedule, but i didn't have any clue what my protagonist Della would do next. I mean, i knew that eventually, she'd end up leading an uprising against the alien overlords who had subjugated her homeworld, but that was down the road, and i'd painted her into a corner, so to speak.

Nanowrimo has always worked well for me because of its concrete goals and the accountability of "winning" or "losing." I've never been someone who got competitive about, say, sports, but anything academic? You bet. I did spelling bees as a kid, was captain of my high school's Scholars Bowl team, all that kind of nerdy shit, so yeah, Nanowrimo's a fantastic way for me to first-draft a novel.

So, there i was, nano-ing out The Dicely Talekeepers and stuck on the story, so I decided that maybe i could keep momentum (and my word count on track) if i just wrote about Della from the perspective of someone else, not one of her close friends in the book, but a total outside perspective, like a coworker. I'd mentioned in passing already in the novel draft how Della had lost her finger in a strapcutting accident at the leatherworking shop to which she'd been indentured, so i came up with the character of Vick Flinders, the other woman operating the equipment that day.

See, rewind even farther: that incident is something which actually happened to me while working in a leather shop one summer. No, I didn't actually cut my finger off, but i did take a strapcutter blade to the knuckle with enough force that i probably should have gotten stitches, but instead i just superglued it. (Superglue was developed for battlefield triage, so that's not as crazy as it might sound.) I remembered how the woman who was working with me felt so, so guilty and blamed herself for my injury, even though it was either both our faults or no one's. So, i wrote the story about Vick Flinders and her consuming guilt, and her determination to make Della a mechanical hand in absolution.

I submitted the story to Steampunk Magazine and they published it, which was a nice surprise for something i wrote off-the-cuff. Then the Vandermeers put it into their Steampunk anthology, which blew me away, and then Ruggine wanted to translate it into Italian. I gather it's also been translated into Polish as well, but I've not seen that version. For such a short little story, it's sure got some long legs on it!

Oh, what ever happened to The Dicely Talekeepers? I did win Nanowrimo that year--50,000+ words of a draft of it exist. I did also workshop it in a speculative fiction class in graduate school, but for now it's still waiting for me to come back and revise it into a publishable state.

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Our pre-release author chat video is out! Triffin and Gregory and I discuss the histories and the mysteries we uncovered in the process of researching this book!

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