Have you every done something, created something, that, even though it was fun at the time, gave you a feeling that one day it would come back and bite you in the…leg? I don’t mean those illicit or illegal things you may or may not have drank/smoked/ingested when you were young and stupid. These are more the things you have done in
the heat of the moment of your adult life that make you look over your shoulder and say…oh dear…what if someone finds out?
Let me explain. One day I was having a bad day — you know those kinds of bad days — stress and miscommunications and a bout of acid reflex that turned out to be gallstones. Too many projects, too little time. It was a tough moment: deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. I needed therapy, I needed relief. Other than finding another job, I needed a way to release all of my pent up emotions so that I wouldn’t start playing a kazoo in the parking lot every morning.
So what does a writer do to release the pressures of every day stress? We write, of course! I sat down with my little laptop and wrote this wonderfully twisted short story about sales managers and voodoo symbols and poisoned candied violets. I had a psycho antagonist and a young, up-and-coming, newly promoted female heroine. I had a clash of egos, a bit of upper class snobbery, and even a twist ending. It was great writing, great therapy. So much so that, after polishing it up a bit, I thought about trying to get it published.
It was then that I felt the nibble on my leg. What if I did get it published? What if it became a best-selling short story? What if I actually made money on it? What if the world — or worse, someone I knew — found out that the story was inspired by them? It’s kinda like having your best friend buying you a present from her favorite store, something that fits her personality to a T but is a major faux paux in your fashion circle. She loves it, you hate it. You think about taking it back to the store to exchange it for something more…you. So you laugh about it with a friend at a barbecue, and who should appear on the other side of the grill but that same-said friend wearing the same-said T. What if she heard you? What if she asks you why you weren’t wearing your “gift”? What if someone says, “Isn’t that the awful shirt you were just talking about?” Odds are your friend never heard a word, but…
This sort of paranoia crosses all generations, all friendships, all common sense. It’s not just a writing thing ― we all get weird when we say something about someone that we later regret, fearing the repercussions that might follow. We do many things in the throes of passion that make us feel self conscious when we come floating back to reality sometime later. What would happen if the kids walked into the bedroom one night to legs and arms were all over the place when they thought you were out to a movie? What would happen if we called in sick to work only to run into our boss at the mall? What if, in a fit of rage, we threw a rotten squash out the back door, only to inadvertently smack the neighbor’s dog in the chops?
We have been taught that we have to please everyone, make everyone feel good, even at our own expense. While that may ring true most of the time, there are times you just need to take a chance on being naughty. Take a chance on getting caught. I didn’t mean any harm when I started writing my ditty. I had always wanted to see if I could write something spooky and revengeful and strange and it was just an accident that the bad guy looked a lot like the co-worker hulking over my shoulder all the time. I never really meant for the antagonist to resemble my co-worker. Nor would I ever think that he would go out and poison the world because sales were down. But it made for such darn good fiction!
Maybe I’m just overreacting. The resemblance to any real person, place or publication is purely circumstantial. Isn’t that what disclaimers are all about? No one I know would read “Horror Daily” or other scary publications and recognize my antagonist — they are too busy reading gossip magazines. And anyway, there could always be a dozen other “Claudia’s” in the writing world. No one would know it was me. Would they?
So the dilemma is this: What do I do with this great story now that it’s written? Do I keep it in a journal, hidden away, only to go back and read it whenever I am under pressure? Or do I get brave, send it out to contests and publishers and take my chances? Do I give in to my paranoia, or throw care to the wind and just go for it?
I think for now I’m just going to let it sit in my computer. I’ll wait until the pressure is released and the people in my office return to being human again. Then I will send it out to such obscure publications that there would be no way in Hades he would read it.
I also will remember not to eat any candied violets.