This month, a story of mine is being featured as American Short Fiction‘s web exclusive. There’s a also an interview with me on their blog. “Albert Arnold Gore” is the latest in my series of counterfactual biographies. It’s actually three mini-stories that make up one complete story.
Before this one, all of these stories had poured out of me with relative ease: I’d do some research, I’d discover an idea for a story, I’d write a draft in one sitting, polish, polish, polish, BOOM! Done. But “Albert Arnold Gore” was a story I really fought with. It seemed so massive and so complicated that I wasn’t sure I could fit it into the small space I needed to. And even if I could, I was having lots of trouble organizing it. It started out as one long section, focusing on Al Gore, Jr. (the former VP) and sort of talking about his relationship with his father and son. It was a mess. Then I tried it in his son’s point of view. No better.
It took me several drafts to realize that I could break it into three mini-stories (which was something I’d wanted to try with one of these biographies anyway). That was a very helpful discovery, but I still had to make a lot of decisions. I wrote a draft of the story with the pieces arranged in every possible order (rewriting each time for rhythm, continuity, and build) before I settled on the chronological order the story appears in now.
Because I did so much editing and re-editing and doubling back, I kept a word document of all my failed attempts called “Gore Outtakes,” which contains almost twice as many words as the actual resulting story. Looking back on these words, I feel really good about the final product. I wouldn’t have gotten there if I hadn’t tried coming at the story from so many different angles. Plus, it’s good practice for when I get started editing my novel, as I know there’s a lot of work to do there. I expect a hefty “Novel Outtakes” document to be added to my desktop soon.
Here’s an excerpt from the finished version of “Albert Arnold Gore.” Head over to American Short Fiction to read the whole thing.
Albert Arnold Gore, Jr.
When Al’s father tells Al he has to go to war to save his Senate seat, it’s difficult for Al not to feel just a little bit like Jesus Christ. There is something solemn about the request, which comes on the day of Al’s graduation from Harvard. He is wearing a tie underneath his crimson gown. “Pomp and Circumstance” rings in his ears.
“I’m in trouble, Al,” his father says. “The kind of trouble only a son in uniform can fix.”
Al knows it’s for the greater good. He knows that his father wants to end the war, but that he can’t end it from the outside. He has to be in the room, and it’s Al’s job to put him in the room. All sons know that there are things you do for your father because he needs them. This is one of those things.