Sometimes writing a story can be easy. An idea comes to you, and the words flow out like a river. Editing goes quickly, and if you’re fortunate, you sell it on your first try.
I’ve had that happen a few times, but for me, short story writing is usually a bit more of a process. My stories tend to take time to gel, the first drafts are often meandering and weak, and the editing process is agonizingly slow (but still my favorite part). Selling a story can take months or sometimes, years.
“The Memory Plague,” which is available in the January 2021 issue of Lightspeed Magazine, is likely my most extreme example of this. “The Memory Plague” had its origins back around 2016, when the title just jumped into my head one day. I had no story to go with the title, but something about the juxtaposition of those two words made it stick in my head, and I knew I wanted to write a story that would fit it.
Around this same time, I learned that my mom had Alzheimer’s. This disease affected her memory, and over the next few years, I watched my mom slip away from me, piece by piece, as her memories were consumed. She became an entirely different person—she even took on a different appearance—and I realized that we are our memories, and it is that collective set of memories that makes us who we are. If those memories are lost or changed, we become fundamentally different people. This became the core of what would eventually become “The Memory Plague.”
Several months later, the first pieces of “The Memory Plague” started to coalesce. I decide I wanted this to be a different take on an alien first-contact story, but I just didn’t know what. I also decided that I wanted to tell the story from the perspective of the aliens, and I wanted that perspective to be as strange as possible, while still allowing me to tell a very human story. I am often disappointed by the portrayal of aliens in science fiction because they simply aren’t that alien, so I wanted to challenge myself and this convention. The alien Vortive were born from this desire.
I don’t want to give away too much if you have yet to read “The Memory Plague,” so I won’t say more about story itself. Suffice to say, my first draft, completed near the end 2016, was not very good. The story was long and unfocused, and simply put, had no heart.
So, I put it away, and a short time later I stopped writing short stories to focus on my book series, The Calypto Cycle. That doesn’t mean I forgot about “The Memory Plague.” It stuck in my mind, like a musical earworm, and over the coming years I dusted it off several times and tried to re-work it. I must have failed a half dozen times, and after each failure, I would put it back on the shelf, only to be drawn back to it a few months later. In 2019, I again pulled the story out determined to finish it, and after many days of hard work, I knew I had something special. I knew I finally had it right.
“The Memory Plague” is very personal to me. It’s the hardest story I have ever written, and thus one of which I am very proud. I am saddened that my mom never got to see this one. She passed away several years ago to Alzheimer’s, but she still lives on in my collective memories. I guess I could say, “We are Audu.”