A short story of mine (Darth Vader and the Lemon) was just published in Carve Magazine. It’s a story about the complexities of step-parenting, and it’s full of bad metaphors about Star Wars. The oldest draft of this story that I can find on my computer goes all the way back to May of 2009. That’s more than 10 years ago! In those first few years, I was really excited about the story, and I even spoke with editors at The Sun and The New Yorker who liked the story, but these conversations didn’t ever result in a publication. At some point (at least five years ago), I abandoned the story after getting too much conflicting and confusing feedback.
I picked up the story again this year when my wife and my agent both mentioned it in passing in the same week. I had fond feelings about this dead story and so I dug it up. It was refreshing to pick it up after so many years — I could read it like an outsider, like I wasn’t the one who wrote it. I saw some spots where the story strayed unnecessarily from the general theme and tone. I also saw spots where I could beef up the connections. But most importantly, I still liked the story.
After getting back into the headspace of this story (which took a few readings), I began working on it again. Tightening it, making it more focused, while still keeping the charm and silliness of the voice. And then I sent it out again. And then Carve accepted it. Carve is a fabulous literary magazine with issues both in print and online.
Anyway, what’s the point of this blog post (other than testing out to see if I still remember how to blog)? I guess I learned that putting a story away isn’t a bad thing. Maybe it’s just time to take a break. The story may be dead. But maybe it isn’t. I find it useful to look back into the vault to see if there’s something in there that still has a charge to it… sparks joy is the overly trending term for this phenomenon, but whatever it’s called, you know it when you feel it.
Here’s an excerpt:
I move the Darth Vader action figure next to the lemon on the kitchen table where I’m sitting with my ten-year-old stepson. It’s breakfast. Which means I cooked him fried eggs and forgot to make myself anything. But I’ve got Darth Vader and a lemon. My stepson looks at me in that way he can look at me when I’m being me at my most me.
I got him the Darth Vader action figure as a Valentine’s Day gift because I knew it might sway him toward the original movies. I refuse to talk about any of the movies that came after that first trilogy. I tell him that the new movies are worse than bags of poo. My stepson tolerates my obsessions because of my accessible metaphors and because I bribe him with high-quality action figures.
I start breathing all Darth Vadery. I move Darth Vader up to the lemon. With my best attempt at a James Earl Jones voice, I say, “You have failed me for the last time, lemon.”
Vader’s movements are awkward—even though he is Dark Lord of the Sith, he is also only three inches tall—and so the lemon is watching carefully for weaknesses, in case it comes to that.
“That’s MY Darth Vader,” my stepson says. And he takes away the key character in my scene.