How I Wrote: To Carve Home in Your Bones

If you haven’t had a chance to grab a copy of the Nov/Dec 2022 Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, you can still grab some e-book copies through Weightless Books.

Now, that the novelette has been out in the world for a few months and it’s eligible for a Hugo and a qualifying story for the Astounding Award, I thought I’d give some backstory, themes, and inspiration. I always knew I’d leave home. It was a matter of counting seconds, minutes, days, and years until I flew the Jersey Shore for somewhere else. Whether or not my home was good or bad didn’t matter. I needed to go somewhere I could be alone with all the monsters brewing inside me as an angry queer kid who couldn’t make sense of what to do with this big old complicated body. When my mom told me she was thinking of keeping me from leaving someway, I told her if she made me stay, I would die.

I haven’t lived in New Jersey for over ten years now, but I have been back a few times. Most recently in 2021, right before completing the final round of edits on ‘To Carve Home.’ I write about home and the idea or sense of it in almost all of my stories because I fought so hard to make whatever homes I could, and I think it took going back home to those old shores, knowing what warmth and security waited for me back on my new shores, to write ‘To Carve Home’ the way it needed to be written with all the gore, all the loss, and all the love that comes with home.

There are also larger themes that came to light after I wrote it that I wasn’t intending like teen pregnancy, social anxieties, and relationship dynamics. It also carries a lot of darkness and sadness. It’s not a happy story, though I have been told it’s beautifully written and at times really funny.

I first wrote the story after reading Samuel R. Delany’s Jewels of Aptor back in 2016 when I was about 26. It was the first really speculative fiction literary book I had ever read, and it sort of broke my brain open. I had no idea stories could be so wild and well-written. I had only ever encountered pulp speculative fiction and couldn’t wrap my mind around something so weird and stylistically beautiful. I wanted to write a story that occupied both camps. I wanted to write a story so wild and dark it was hard to really name or place it, but the prose had to be gorgeous.

When I first wrote ‘To Carve Home in Your Bones,’ I didn’t have the skill to pull off the task, but I had the vision. While the words of the story are totally different in the published draft than it originally was, the storyline, world, and characters are all the same. I knew what I wanted the story to be, but technically getting it there took about six years of learning and reworking the story.

The first few years of critiques were all terrible. No one liked the story. No one believed in the story. Most people thought it was an interesting world or theme, but not much else. ‘To Carve Home’ is one of those stories I needed to tell, though. I needed to talk about trauma and home and becoming your own person in a way that featured monsters and fantastical creatures and a world without fear.

I knew I wanted it to be published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction because they were the only publishers who I thought could publish or understand a story so dark and strange. One review I read said it read more like an Apex Magazine story, which I can totally see! But F&SF was always its home. I did send it out to Beneath Ceaseless Skies first and got a personalized rejection from Scott, saying the only reason he didn’t accept it was that it read too modern or real-world and not 2nd world fantasy enough.

That confidence made me take my shot with the dream market of all dream markets. I remember getting the acceptance email. It came during a very rough time in my household, and it made me stand up and sit down in rapid succession. I couldn’t believe it.

Me? In F&SF?

The story has been reviewed in a few different places and though the reviews are mixed there’s one area they can all agree on—To Carve Home in Your Bones is a dark and gory horror story for readers who love horror. Some reviewers even skipped over the story because of how graphic it was. But a few called my telling masterful and compared it to stories like Lost, Alien, and Lord of the Flies. There are a few bad reviews out there, but yay! ‘To Carve Home’ polarized people and struck people. Hard.

For me, ‘To Carve Home in Your Bones’ is probably the best stories I’ve ever written. I think about those girls all the time and that island. I wonder what their parents think happened to them—the ones who cared enough to think about their kids. There are even moments when I find myself on those monstrous shores, wandering along the bloody sands.

If you like dark fantasy and horror that gets dark but has a heart, check out ‘To Carve Home in Your Bones.’ If you can’t find a copy or buy one, let me know and I can see what I can do. I have a few physical copies of the Nov/Dec 2022 issue of F&SF.

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