I set out to write a magical story about Slenderman, and then I turned Slenderman into a wolf, and somehow the story ended with no Slenderman, barely any wolves, and no magic. I begin most my failed stories with the earnest hope they will become absurdist and magical and good. Most of them are the former, but never the latter. I want to write magical stories the way my middle school self wanted to find a gilded pendent in the forest. Despite the generalized nomenclature, I think a lot of “wolf girls” and “horse girls” are all seeking a sort of supreme individualism that comes with being a main character. Certainly, middle school me is guilty of this. Like the characters, I spent a good amount of sixth grade recess weaving a “wolf brothers” story with the only friend I had. Most of these scribbles are lost to the wheel of time, so it remains in my memory an epic that could rival Christopher Paolini’s Eragon. But either way the die had been cast: I wanted to be a writer. And what better way to immortalize my wolf brothers past with a cool bit of magical wolf fiction?
So, in the first draft the girls run all the way to Alaska, summon Slender-wolfman and end up dueling or something—it got messy. In the next iteration, Maeve dies and comes back as Xandra’s dog when she’s a recent college graduate. In another draft they fend off a hermit. Eventually I toned it all down, but at the very end, their wild suffering is rewarded by the sight of a huge black wolf atop a vista… but somehow, even a somber yet wise wolf didn’t feel narratively satisfying. I knew something had to happen in those woods, something that would make them not come back the same. Eventually I realized that besides the very dramatic, the worst outcome for two girls looking for a storied adventure is nothing at all. And so, we were left with no magic and no wolves, but our characters confronting that the world is what you see.
I hear a lot that writing is an escape—it was in middle school and it’s certainly an escape now. And in middle school, my wolf epic was certainly an escape from the mundane. But especially after grad school, writing became less of an escape (I mean, ideally it’s a career at this point) and more of a confrontation. This confrontation really crystalized when I moved across the country during the pandemic to help sell my childhood home, to sort (and burn) relics of my wolf girl stage. Why was middle school so particularly awful? Why were all my female friendships, but especially this middle school friendship, so weirdly charged? Why did I stop talking to my friend from sixth grade? And now, looking back on this story, I have to add one more to the list—why do I want my fiction to be magical?
ALLIE DOKUS is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Before that, she was a Sandwich Artist at Subway. Now she lives in Massachusetts and is working on a novel inspired by Dance Moms.