Just when you think that you can’t publish a story about vomit, life surprises you.
On Friday, Flash Fiction Magazine published “Waiting in Line for the Train to Tomorrowland,” a short story of mine, with the tagline, “Vomit, rollercoasters, love and loss—essential parts of life.” The genesis of this story began with my friend, Jen, who shared the line second-hand via text. It was one of those moments that writers listen for, when someone says something offhand that is so well-composed we can’t help but use it as a prompt. (And, in my case, the title. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s coming up with clever titles, so I’ll gladly take what the universe offers me.)
The broader impact of feeling inspired by my exchange with Jen, who is not only my writerly BFF but also a meticulous reader (something I admire deeply), is all the little moments that led up to the finished piece. First, it was just plain fun to share the writing process with someone else even if long-distance via email. (Jen and I agreed to use this as a flash fiction prompt and share the results.)
As I wrote the draft, repeating the line over in my head meant asking how I would go about writing something that encompassed the feeling of waiting in line at an amusement park, a place that I’m rarely known to go. My first thoughts: amusement parks = sugary, greasy food = lots of kids = high speed = vomit. Then I began thinking of different words to describe vomiting (puking, retching, yakking, blowing chodes, the last of which was edited out, sadly.) It was an exercise whose work was its own reward.
Since I tend to write emotionally heavy fiction and essays, the opening line—“That kid’s gonna blow like Vesuvius,” which came to me quickly—set an unusual tone that I was eager to follow. I laughed it off and thought, Alright! Why not write a story about vomit? and I let fall away the usual rules I might adhere to when writing a “serious” piece. So quickly flowed the rollercoasters and projectiles.
As fun and freewheeling as the story felt to write, I realized early on that vomit was the perfect framing device for deeper feelings—but it was a different approach to doing so than I normally take. Despite the zany tone in places, the story ultimately allowed me to accomplish my ongoing reflection on my mom’s death and reconsidering (yet again) the life decisions I’ve made since then, even if through the lens of a fictitious character riding rollercoasters, which I’d never do, in a theme park I’ve never visited. (A bonus was being able to include an altered memory of eating too many olives when I was little.)
Upon sharing the finished draft with my main squeeze, the question arose as to whether someone would actually publish a story that featured vomit so prominently. A victim of reverse psychology, I’ll freely admit that being told that the odds are against me is what really spurs me on. That’s why, when I received the email of the story’s acceptance, I felt a bump of joy beyond what I normally feel when I place a piece.
Seriously. I was so excited that I nearly threw up.