Post 1 of 4.
When I first wrote “Fireflies” about a year and a half ago, my original inspiration was my sister when she was a little girl. She used to play this game, called the “number game,” where she would add up the sum in a sequence of numbers, such as in license plates, mail boxes, telephone numbers, etc. She has always liked numbers a lot, and still does: as a teller, she counts numbers all day.
The character of Melissa in “Fireflies” is some sort of combination of two obsessions—numbers and death. My original idea when writing the first draft of “Fireflies” was to explore (or try to) the childhood mind of my sister and her addition game. The further into Melissa’s head I got, the more her character seemed to be concerned with time than with the addition itself, with the probability of life she had left to live. As much as I might have set out to write about one thing, I think it’s of course inevitable that I would somehow insert myself into that character. When I was about the same age as my sister, I had a premature realization of my own mortality. Everyday I would worry about how much longer I could expect to live, what would happened if I died any given day, and if I had enough time to do everything I wanted beforehand.
The layering of my sister’s obsession with numbers and my own obsession with death seemed obvious to me, as if the two had always been related.
Writers have a kind of obsession of their own with revision. So much of our time is spent by reworking, reworking, reworking. “Fireflies” was a slightly different experience for me. It might have been one of the only writing experiences where I felt that it was nearly complete with my first handwritten draft I wrote while my friends drove down I-95. The license plate numbers in the story are real numbers I passed along the way (if I used your license plate, thank you for your contribution). Of course there was the fine-tuning: the wrestling with the individual word choices, the strengthening of verbs, reworking some dialogue, etc., but as far as the original content, it felt nearly finished to me, which was a good feeling.
Jacques Rancourt is a Michael D. Wilson research scholar at the University of Maine at Farmington and a contributor to the recently released Best of the Web 2008 anthology (Dzanc Books). He’s currently writing about a recent trek on the 100-mile stretch of the Appalachian Trail. He is one of several authors guest-blogging today in support of the Best of the Web 2008 anthology.