Thursday, May 01, 2008

“The Frankenstein Diaries” - by Matt Rotundo

Inspiration can strike you anywhere, at any time. With "The Frankenstein Diaries," the idea sprang at me as I read the newspaper. I chanced upon an article about a father exploring the possibility of cloning his deceased son from the DNA in a lock of the boy's hair--a memento from a first haircut, as I recall.

And I got angry.

Seriously. I wanted to smack the guy. His child was gone. Cloning, even if someday perfected, would not bring him back. Didn't he get that?

Maybe part of the problem, I thought, was the way cloning is depicted in popular culture. Clones are almost uniformly shown as exact duplicates of the "original"--in every way, not just in appearance--and more often than not emerging from some laboratory fully grown, to boot. Now, I'm not knocking such stories; they can be entertaining on their own terms. But someone cloned from my cells would not be another Matt Rotundo. He would just be someone who looks a lot like me. And he would start out, like we all do, as a baby.

I began to wonder what it would really be like to raise a child cloned from another's cells. What sorts of unique difficulties would the family face? And perhaps more important, why would parents choose to clone a child in the first place? Even if natural conception were impossible, why wouldn't the parents consider adoption? Would you opt for cloning even if you were fully informed of the realities? I thought again about that grieving father from the newspaper article, and I began to pity him, a little.

It was then that I knew I had a story.

I wrote the first draft of "The Frankenstein Diaries" in an epistolary format--as a series of journal entries, naturally. I rather enjoyed the challenge of telling the story this way, but a wise reader advised me to recast it in third person. I really didn't want to do that, fearing the story might lose a bit of what made it special. I also suspected such a rewrite would involve a lot of work.

Or was that just laziness talking? I couldn't tell.

So I grudgingly made a deal with myself: I would write a third person version of the story, as a sort of test drive, but I would keep the original in a separate file. When I was finished, I would compare the two drafts, and decide which one I liked best.

I was right; it was a lot of work. It involved much more than simply changing a bunch of pronouns. I had to do some major restructuring. Entire scenes disappeared; others had to be shuffled around. For instance, the opening, with John Griffin picking up his son after an incident at daycare, originally appeared some twenty pages into the story. If the epistolary format had been a challenge, the more conventional third person proved even more so. Ah, the irony.

In the end, of course, my wise reader was vindicated, and I remain grateful for the input (thanks, Rita!). I kept some of the journal entries, though. You can't really call a story "The Frankenstein Diaries" without showing a bit of the diary, right?

Some readers have found this a pretty bleak piece. That feedback surprised me at first, but upon reflection, I suppose I can understand why people would feel that way. A whole string of terrible events occurs, even in just the first half of the story. Still, for what it's worth, I maintain that I've never seen "The Frankenstein Diaries" as downbeat. I don't want to give away too much, but I'd like to think the ending rewards the reader, at least a little, for sticking it out through the hard times.

(artwork for this story (in the current issue of IGMS) by Kevin Wasden: (Matt's blog:

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