I explained here how Phoenix started out as another story, one with Gabriel as the focus. In it, he meets up with a girl, Neely, also living on the streets. It’s a very different story, serving a specific purpose. It explains how Gabriel connects with the characters of my novels, and while I think there’s value to the original story, it clearly doesn’t work as a standalone piece.
I looked it over today. I have a file labeled debris and I keep all my stories that don’t go anywhere there. It’s kind of like having a junkyard. Every now and then I go and pick through the pieces and see what I can use elsewhere. Or I look at the evolution of an idea that eventually made it out of debris and into something functional.
Anyway, this is what I found today: We just kind of hung out the next day. Not really doing much. We went out in the morning and he bought us some muffins. Muffins? We weren’t really the Sunday paper and coffee folks, but it sure felt like it that morning. We sat out on a park bench for a while and tossed crumbs at the pigeons, not really talking much, just being there. Some of the other kids were out and around, mostly looking groggy and strung out in the daylight. I was pretty aware of being with Gabriel, of having spent the night with him. It made me feel like I was something more than I had been yesterday, even if it was just that I wasn’t alone.
If you’ve read Phoenix, you’ll note my fascination with park benches and muffins. I rarely sit on park benches, and I rarely eat muffins, and I’m almost never in cities, and yet, of all the images to make the leap from junkyard to Phoenix, it was these.
“Phoenix” is an odd story. Odd in the sense that it came from more than one place, unlike most of my short stories. It started several years ago, when I wrote a story about a teenage hustler named Gabriel. Gabriel came from the Aware novels, and that story was my way of understanding his history. Unlike “Sea Glass,” the story wasn’t one that worked well on its own, so I set it aside.
Then, last year, I spent a lot of time thinking about hope. There were all sorts of reasons for that, ranging from the state of the world to my own history of depression to the sorts of stories I kept writing. Somewhere along the way, one line got stuck in my head: The thing about stories is they’ve got to have hope.
So I had that line, and Gabriel, and that first story, and then Tucker came along. Convention with young adult fiction says it doesn’t include a middle-aged narrator, but that’s where things went with Tucker. For “Phoenix” to have hope, there needed to be the understanding that Tucker survived everything, and thrived.
Still, it wasn’t yet a story. Not until Kelsey happened by. I can’t tell you where she came from, because I don’t know. Some characters just drift into your head and take root there like dandelions. Kelsey’s one of them.
So “Phoenix” rose from the bones of an old story and the meeting of three characters.
“Phoenix” is out today! I’m going to do a separate post about the story, but I wanted to run through a few quick notes first.
The design team at Musa did a beautiful job. Editors Kayla Watson and Kathy Teel were wonderful to work with. I truly appreciate the work everyone at Musa and Euterpe put in to get “Phoenix” to this point.
You can buy it through Musa and Amazon. Keep in mind that this is a novelette–essentially a long short story–so it’s the sort of thing you can read in one sitting. The links to where to buy it will be permanent fixtures on the blog, once I do a little more widget work.
If I were a more organized person, I would have included this with the pretty picture last night.
At sixteen, Tucker has nothing but the clothes on his back, the bruises on his ribs, and the truth about what happened between him and the band teacher. He left home looking to escape his memories, but all he’s found on the road are new bad ones to take their place.
Then he meets Gabriel, a beautiful hustler, and Kelsey, a fire-obsessed girl with a head full of fairy tales. After Gabriel rescues him from a pair of drunks looking for a fight, Tucker’s happy to join him in the abandoned factory he calls home. All he must do in return is help keep Kelsey safe.
But Kelsey’s not what Tucker thinks she is, and safety isn’t what she needs from him. To help her, he’ll have to face the secret he’s been running from, and the flames she’s running to find.