We recently published Kate Finegan’s stunning “Going, All Along.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) In high school, I used to know a boy on the swim team who had an indented chest. He loved to make up stories about how it got like that, but he had just been born concave. This narrator has her body change on her, become something different — and she accepts it so beautifully. Do you think her reactions would be different if she had been like this from the beginning?
I don’t think I can really speak to how she would feel if she had been born this way because in this piece, I was really interested in exploring a reaction to physical change. Some writer-friends and I were recently discussing Kim Fu’s brilliant story “Liddy, First to Fly” (published in Room 41.4), in which a girl reacts to the emergence of wings on her ankles as everyone else is going through “normal” puberty. What struck me is how she and her friends react so calmly to this development. My friends and I felt that this understated reaction is absolutely credible. You learn that your body is going to change, and then it does change, and all you can do is look on in wonder and confusion and try to figure out how to live in this new form, even as you realize that the changes aren’t affecting everyone in exactly the same way; it’s not quite as straightforward as your health teacher would have you believe! In a way, I wrote this for eleven-year-old me, who kept waiting to look like everyone else and didn’t always accept change (or lack thereof) with grace.
2) That moment at the end, where a bobolink builds its nest so close to her heart, is so beautiful! I love that the bird chooses to stay in the end. Did you ever consider having it leave?
Only very, very briefly. This entire story was built around the image of a bird nesting inside a girl’s chest; that was the spark for this piece. I wanted it to be a love letter to the girl I was, a way of reaching out through time and saying, “There there, you’re doing fine.” One of my writing teachers, Rachel Thompson, says that a key part of revision is to write a list of as many possible endings as you can think of, to decide which ending truly best serves your story’s theme. So often, the first ending that comes to mind is not the most interesting. So, I always consider alternate endings, but in this case, the only possible ending that would serve my purpose was to have the bird stay – although for how long, who knows? I don’t necessarily think of this ending as “happily ever after” but more like “happily right now,” which I’m learning can be good enough, in fiction and in life.