The nurses, cafeteria workers, surgeons, Harold, they all irritated Darla. So did the old man in the room next door. He was dying, had been for days. Family kept streaming out of the elevator, stomping down the hallway and…
Every now and again I get lucky and a story just falls out of my head onto the page. Sure, there is work to do after the initial draft, but the structure, characters, dialogue, setting—these elements remain the same.
“Heart Trouble” is not one of those stories. It took me nearly a decade to complete, and what remains looks nothing like it did when I started. I told the story from different points of view and in a variety of settings. I abandoned Darla and Harold many times, frustrated and certain I couldn’t work the necessities out.
But Darla wouldn’t abandon me. During much of this period I worked on the road, away from my family. I’d be crashed out in a single-wide trailer in North Dakota, or chasing a paving train down the highway in the middle of the night, and Darla would show up, demanding my attention.
I went back to work. I found Darla and Harold in the VA Hospital in Seattle. The story suddenly felt true, so I continued on. “Heart Trouble” was a mess. It blew up to over fifty pages. I cut, revised, cut some more. I threw in a suicide scene, which was a heavy-handed attempt at squeezing out a tear, so I cut again. The title changed a number of times. Once in a while I’d give Darla and Harold a break, but I knew I’d return to them, that I would finish their story.
This decade of work taught me that I can’t always dictate a story’s direction. Sometimes I have to turn the characters loose and just pound away at the keys, knowing that much of what I’m putting down will get trashed. This is particularly true with dialogue. When I let the characters talk freely, without interruptions from me, the dialogue has a chance at authenticity. I always end up with an excessive amount of needless banter, but hopefully I’ll have enough skill and insight to whittle away until I find the good stuff.
REX ADAMS grew up on a farm and ranch outside of Coulee City, Washington. He makes his living in the construction industry. His stories have appeared in Sky Island Journal, Confrontation, the Writers in the Attic: Song anthology, BULL: Men’s Fiction, and elsewhere. His fiction recently received nominations for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. He lives near Marsing, Idaho with his wife and two young daughters.