Monday, June 04, 2012

Blank Faces—M.K. Hutchins

"Blank Faces" began with a rejection letter. I sent the rejected tale to another market and plopped down to write a new story -- a better one. I'm stubborn. I've always told myself that if I fail at writing, it's not going to be because I gave up. Often, I outline, but for "Blank Faces" I started with nothing more than the notion of writing a Western-flavored fantasy.

Perhaps because I didn't plan extensively, the ideas flowed from my past. I got my degree studying archaeology. One of the field'sblank-faces messiest ethical questions is if/when to dig up burials. Using bones stolen from Native American graves to power steampunk contraptions set the tone of the story for me.

Another crucial bit of this story came from my teenage years. I was put in charge of an organization and had to ask two other girls to pitch in as assistants. One of the girls I asked usually sat in the back row. She always acted out. "Team player" wasn't her best description -- and I heard adults complain about her frequently.

I don't think anyone had trusted her to be responsible before. The change was dramatic. She appeared to all meetings early, notes in hand, ready to work. In truth, I did almost nothing -- this girl volunteered for every task and delivered on her promises. The notion crept into my fifteen-year-old head that people often live up to the expectations of others.

Conversely, I liked that I was able to take a character who'd spent most of her life as a victim -- as a slave -- and have her be somebody blank-facesremarkable. I've read a number of stories where the evil villain comes from an abusive background, and it inevitably depresses me. Where's the hope for recovery? Maybe I'm optimistic, but I loved writing Miss Annie. I couldn't help but think of Bishop Myriel from Victor Hugo's Les Miserables, and the plot unfolded from there.

On the downside of writing without an outline, the story took several heavy revisions to get right. In the original draft, the curse only made people more violent and prone to steal; some of the characters doubted the curse even existed. It led to a flat, ambiguous story where the steampunk elements seemed disconnected from the whole. I tossed it in the drawer for several months before coming up with the idea of blank faces. The story now had something concrete to stand on, and better yet, dehumanized vision dovetailed nicely with treating human remains no differently than a lump of gold.

--M.K. Hutchins

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