Glad Rags may be my most disturbing story published. While I was working on it, I had little insight as to the source of the inspiration. In hindsight, I understand the anger that fueled the story. So while it may be my darkest and most antisocial story, it was also a fairly cathartic one for me.
I have a notion that stories serve to express experiences and perceptions that we can’t always rationalize, material that we just can’t make sense of with ordinary explanations. Maybe an event or period in one’s life was too emotionally chaotic to explain to yourself what happened, or why it did. Let me be clear that nothing like Glad Rags happened in my real life. Nothing criminal occurred, nor anything remotely as disturbing, and the story is entirely fictitious. But there was a time in my life that left me with a good deal of confusion and anger, not to mention self-doubt. I see now that much of that negativity fed the story.
There’s an uneasy feeling sometimes, writing a story, when a reprehensible character comes into existence a little too easily. I had that experience with the protagonist, Sheldon. He just showed up for the story, so to speak, and I found myself wondering where the fuck he came from. He was an unwelcome guest who appeared upon my computer screen, overstayed his welcome, and when he left, I found myself wondering if people saw me hanging out with him.
Looking back on the story now, I see that I identified Sheldon with a trait that I dislike to a considerable degree: passive-aggressiveness. Sheldon actively allows bad things to happen. He is the type of creature I tend to associate with cultures of addiction, the type of person who enters a hidden door that drug abuse leaves open. He is not a drug addict himself, but a predator drawn to a realm of unwitting victims, the mild-mannered monster crawling through the shadows.
Despite the unease he generated, he did show me a story. When writing a character, it feels to me like a strange blend of watching and guiding. I’m not just passively observing such a character, simply recording his actions. I’m nudging him in certain directions. In his case, I wanted to examine how or why necrophilia could appeal to someone.
Necrophilia serves as a chilling topic for most people, a great taboo in any culture I can recall. It generally assumes desecration of a body, disrespect for the surviving loved ones, criminal activity, not to mention the physical risk and revulsion associated with decomposing flesh. Writing a story about the topic requires some grisly depiction, the degree of which perhaps depends upon the state of decomposition. It feels somewhat incriminating to say that, in an effort to understand Sheldon, I avoided the more advanced states, because it implies an understanding of his attraction to any postmortem state. All I can say in my defense is that I tried to comprehend it, and attempted to view the desire through Sheldon’s eyes. Being identified with a protagonist is an occupational hazard of writing; so be it.