Story Behind the Story: What Merfolk Must Know

What Merfolk Must Know

A lot of times when we write historical fiction, it’s tempting to restrict ourselves to narratives of political, intellectual, religious, and artistic “heavyweights” – people about which much has been written and who play a significant role in the large-scale historical narratives we learn in school. Even when we write about a character we make up in, say colonial America, it’s fun to have that character accidentally run into Benjamin Franklin or George Washington as they go about their daily lives.

But writing other narratives is necessary, especially when they’re narratives about oppressed peoples and the uglier parts of our history that we’d rather not think about. It took me a long time to figure out how I could best write about the Zong massacre in a way that introduced a fantastical element without underplaying or discounting the horror of both this event and the transatlantic slave trade as a whole. The story only succeeds (if it succeeds – I’m sure some people may beg to differ!) because of the utter naiveté of the narrator. Like the original little mermaid, she comes face-to-face with the cruelties of the land and doesn’t escape unscathed… as none of us should.

For anyone who’s interested in learning more about the transatlantic slave trade than their high school or college history books taught them, the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database has information on almost 36,000 slaving voyages and the over 10,000,000 African men, women, and children whose lives the trade consumed.

Story Behind the Story: iChaperone

About midnight, the party came to a crashing halt when one of the dive team seniors arrived with a case of beer. Izzy had a split-second to wince before dozens of iChaperones lit up in angry technicolor.

iChaperone is another Codex Writers Weekend Warrior story. I had less than 72 hours to write a 750-word story based on a series of five prompts, mix and match the prompts however I wanted.

One of the prompts was a standard type of prompt that often appears in the Weekend Warrior contest, which was to use any three words out of a grab bag of miscellaneous words. I was mulling over the grab bag – chaperone, turret, magnificent, hopeless, ample, shuttle, eel, acrobat, bleach, conniving, soothe, schism, amadinda, solar, tithe, Chicago, sale, spangles, middling, stonework – and also tempted to combine it with another prompt that had captured my imagination but wasn’t immediately leading to a story: “What’s behind the cloud?”

As I tried to make some of those bits and pieces fit together into something that would lead to a story, I was reminded of a long-ago incident where I’d come home from college and was talking to my parents. They’d just given my younger brother his first cell phone and my mom joked that they’d gotten him an electronic leash and he’d thanked them for it. The ideas crashed together and suddenly I knew that my story was about drone technology evolving to enable literal helicopter parenting.

A story like that could have gone the dystopian route. But when I started to write Izzy’s story, instead of it being about the horrors of the surveillance state, a different kind of story emerged. It’s an utterly idealistic story, where technology is deployed not to punish and control but to truly protect.

We don’t live in that world. But I’d like to.

iChaperone and hundreds of other amazing flash fiction stories can be read for free on the Daily Science Fiction website.