K. G. Anderson’s story “Rowboat” was published in Metaphorosis on Friday, 12 February 2016.
I’ve often wanted to rewrite parts of my own life story, so it was natural that I’d write fiction about a character who attempts it.
Fiction is filled with characters who reinvent themselves. This used to be true in real life, as well — people who emerged from war zones, or who turned up on the frontier, where no one could check identities. (My parents had a friend, born in 1913 to a working-class immigrant family in Boston, who changed his name, became an acclaimed artist and adventurer, and successfully passed himself off as a European blueblood.) But with today’s fingerprinting, DNA identification, and rapid communication, creating a new history for yourself is increasingly difficult.
In my story “Rowboat,” the asteroid dweller who invents a false family history takes advantage of the unexpected extinction of life, and destruction of records, back on planet Earth. Of course, something eventually occurs to unravel her deception…
I enjoyed collaborating with my character to invent the stories she would then pass on to her daughter, Maya. We had to figure out how to replace all the tragic elements of her childhood with empowering ones. As you’ll see in the story, she creates her fictitious mother (Maya’s “Gramma Jen”) using the stories, recipes, and characteristics of other women who were mentors in her life: an artistic neighbor, a glamorous spaceship captain, a beloved friend.
My protagonist’s initial inspiration to rewrite her life comes from a photo she discovers — one that reveals that her father had his own secret past. I’ve discovered a number of old family photos that hint at my family’s own secrets. I’ll never uncover them — everyone who might have helped me is long dead. I wrote “Rowboat” to watch Maya achieve, and grapple with, the discoveries that I will never make.
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