I’ve been writing fiction about the dynamics between parents and their adult children who come into parenthood themselves. I recognize that my current interest in the subject reflects where I am in life, and writing through this phase is my way of thinking about different relationships.
“Sibling Parenting” was initially a completed short story of about 2,800 words. I received feedback that the relationships between the three characters in the story could benefit from more selective emphasis. For about two years, I kept returning to the piece to resolve the three-way interactions, but each rewrite only bloated the word count. Every new detail I wrote added to the noise obscuring the story.
Finally, I decided to extract a single paragraph that I felt was definitive. Everything else was set aside. Instead of trying to triangulate, I picked one point, and that paragraph became the opening of a much shorter piece. This instance was one of the occasions wherein a story refused to fit the space I’d made for it. Instead, it demanded the brevity and focus of a microfiction format.
“Father’s Day” started with a news article about the death of the last Sumatran Rhino in Malaysia. I was considering using a zoo as a setting for a story. I was thinking also about irrecoverable losses and how we try to make up for them, about how much slips away without our knowledge, and about fathers and sons (the rhinoceros was male). These were all loose associations floating around in the back of my mind. The current ending presented itself when I remembered the father-son relationship in Star Wars, which then allowed me to plant a mention of lightsabers earlier in the piece.
I find joy in writing toward coherence, in knotting different elements together. Writing is sometimes very much like that video of a lone brain cell looking to connect with another. The hard part is relaxing into the process enough for the necessary connections to happen naturally.
SHIH-LI KOW is a former chemical engineer and mall manager. She is the author of a short story collection, Ripples and Other Stories, and a novel, The Sum of Our Follies. Her writing has been published in Flash Fiction Online, Clarkesworld, Quarterly West, and elsewhere. Her short story, “Relative Distance,” was recently shortlisted for the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. She lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Find her on Twitter @shihlikow.