My flash fiction story “Poisoned” has been published in The Journal of Microliterature:
This was a very tricky piece to put together. It was actually inspired by an incident that occurred in the course of my mother’s psychosis. One day she took me to the hospital, complaining of chest and abdominal pains. I was naturally concerned, but I also recall being hopeful that having a doctor examine her would lead to the (I thought) inevitable revelation that she’d lost her marbles. No such luck. But anyway, they took her complaints seriously, because although she was in fairly good health, at forty-one she wasn’t exactly young anymore, and was a smoker besides, so there was legitimate reason to believe there could be a problem with her heart. They gave her the requisite battery of tests, but couldn’t find anything wrong. Now, as an adult, I can pretty easily guess what they must have told her – that she’d had an anxiety attack, which she probably had – but at the time I had no idea such a thing even existed. In fact, I wondered more if perhaps it was all in her head; she was imagining a lot of strange things in those days. Then the doctor left the room and the interrogation began. And that’s when I began to be afraid that she’d somehow manage to pin the blame for her mysterious illness on me.
The first version I wrote of this piece was mostly reflective of that – my terror over being falsely accused and probably convicted of poisoning my own mother with some substance of which no one could prove or disprove the existence. I sent my story off to Microliterature, and a few weeks later I received a response from the editor that basically said (politely) that I had ruined an otherwise good piece by changing the tone halfway through. He was absolutely right. The story ended in hysterics, with the husband being dragged away by the police, which, while it carried the plot in an interesting direction, utterly wrecked the dreadful calm of the first half of the story. He did, however, say that if I ever did a rewrite, I should feel free to resubmit.
So I rewrote it. I changed the second half of the piece entirely, including the ending, making it more about the relationship between the husband and wife than about the consequences of the wife’s accusation. And I was careful to maintain the tone of the first half of the piece throughout, which worked worlds better than the original version. And here you see the results. How grateful I am to that editor! With one brief sentence he nailed what was wrong with that piece and clued me in as to how to change it from a so-so story into a well-done one. I realize, of course, that few editors have the time to address the defects in the submissions they receive. But I hope that those who do make the effort are aware of how much we writers truly appreciate their feedback, and of what an impact a few choice words can make on the quality of a writer’s work.
Addendum: After this story was published, I also composed an alternate version, a nonfiction piece also entitled Poisoned, which is written in the first person and is featured in my memoir On Hearing of My Mother’s Death Six Years After It Happened. It received an Honorable Mention in The Avalon Literary Review‘s Spring 2014 Quarterly Contest and may be downloaded as a FREE eBook at your favorite eBook retailer; I have also posted it here for those who are curious to compare the two versions. Needless to say, I was very careful to maintain a consistent tone throughout!