We recently published Kayleigh Shoen’s stunning “Things I’m Holding (for you).”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) One of the things I love about this piece is the specificity of it. Was it hard to choose the items the narrator has held onto, or did they come easily for you?
The nature of the things has changed a lot over time. I wrote the first version of this story in Pam Painter’s flash class at Emerson College, where we were writing a full story or often multiple stories every week. So, the first draft was very rushed, really just a list of objects I was tired of carrying in my purse for my husband.
A lot of the feedback I got on that version — both in the class and in my writing groups — reflected that readers were looking for a more dramatic relationship between the people in the story. People were saying “oh she hates him,” “they’re going to get divorced,” “she’s going to kill him” which was funny because the objects were taken from real life and I’m very happily married, really!
It’s taken me many drafts — more than you might expect for such a short story — to arrive at this mix of “things.” As I’ve changed the scope of “things,” the story has moved away from a gripe to a fictional story with specific characters.
One of the important objects to me is the chapstick, which my husband doesn’t use. To me, the chapstick is like a permission slip to write whatever I want without it being about me.
2) Those last two words, “my breath,” oh, they say so much! I love how this story ends. Did you ever have a different ending in mind?
I think that ending appeared about midway through the rewrite process when I changed the action from “carrying” to “holding.” They seem like synonyms, but to me “holding” has more of a sense of burden, and it opened up more possibilities for this character – holding back, holding her tongue, holding on… Actually, I’m still not sure I picked the best option. Except I think “holding my breath” implies that she can’t wait forever, and I like that quiet, impending doom. Every story should have a hint of doom to it.