"HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS STORY”
by Garnett Elliott
Back around October of ’09 or thereabouts, Patti Abbott issued a flash fiction challenge for noir stories involving Wal--, I mean, a Big Box Conglomerate Associated with All Things Negative of American Consumerism. I hadn’t written much flash at that point, and I’ve never been what you’d call a ‘joiner,’ but I couldn’t pass on this one.
I work with people who get a lot of panic attacks. Wal-Mart (there, I said it) holds a special place for those blessed with chronic anxiety. Something about the narrow aisles. Or the way normally decent folks start acting like rodents once they’re inside. But as much as they’d like to, nervous people can’t always avoid the place. The prices are too damned reasonable. So they learn to shop when it’s not so crowded.
Like three in the morning.
When I decided to write Freak Shift I didn’t have a plot and I didn’t have any characters. The night-side of Wally World was my only premise. How to get some ideas? Research. I stayed up late and headed over to the closest store, not five minutes away (Arizona’s lousy with Wal-Marts--my hometown of Yuma has three).
That night I saw many things. A drug deal, going down under the weird orange-amber light of the parking lot. Insomniacs--or at least people dressed like they’d just slipped out of bed--wandering the aisles with no shopping carts and no clear intention of buying anything. Homeless dudes sampling produce. Fit-looking people riding handi-scooters. And of course, the stockers and cleaning staff going about their nocturnal tasks.
Some of these people found their way into the story.
The funniest part was, I ended up blowing a hundred bucks. That was not my intention. But as I strolled around, observing, I kept coming across these great deals. 100% Combed Cotton Fruit of the Loom undershirts, in four-packs? Into the cart. Tube socks? Always need those.
When the trip was over I was poorer, but I had a plot. Of sorts. I spent a couple weeks (far too long for an eight-hundred word story, I know) banging out and then obsessively re-arranging what would become Freak Shift.
I’m not that proud of the end result. Let’s call it a learning experience. Got into a nice anthology, though.
And someone made money off the process.
But not Steve or me.
You can find Garnett Elliot's stories in Thuglit, Plots with Guns, Beat to a Pulp, All Due Respect and other fine zines.