Some Wiscon ago, walking back to the hotel, I turned to fellow horror geek cafenowhere and said, "Someone should write a poem about Final Girls." She said I should do that. I promptly tucked that into my hindbrain to percolate and thought nothing more of it. Consciously, that is.
And then one day I scribbled on the purple dry-erase board over my desk, "the final girl drinks alone."
I can pinpoint the day I created the file that I titled The Final Girl - thank you, computer! January 7, 2013. And looking at that, I can remember where I was emotionally. Judah had already intensified his cheating and his nasty behavior. I was already on chat long hours with Michael, though we were still just friends. Things were slipping for me in ways I didn't know yet. Judah had already done severe damage to my ability to write; I think I'd stopped working on Cicatrix before then.
And here's this stubborn little thing, that I wrote a few notes on and then put away because I just couldn't write anymore.
And then Judah raped me.
And then, over months, "The Final Girl" began to coalesce.
I've never had a writing experience like I had with "The Final Girl". What usually happens with poems or short fiction is that they percolate in my hindbrain for howeverlong, and then, ping!, they're ready, and I sit down and write the all in one go. This was different. This was a line or two or maybe a paragraph that would happen in my brain while I was in the shower, or walking somewhere, or just doing something else in general. Judah was killing my writing, but this poem, which became this story, kept sneaking in around the edges, piecemeal.
I learned to just leave the door open, so to speak. To welcome the pieces of "The Final Girl" when they arrived. I learn to be patient, not to force it, because when I tried, it vanished like smoke.
Months of a sentence here and a paragraph there. The chunks the final product is in are the chunks it came in, though not consistently in the same order. I accepted that this was not going to follow a traditional story form, that it was just going to be the shape that it was. (I sent it in-progress to cafenowhere; her questions and comments were invaluable in helping me figure out what else needed to be there, what I wasn't looking at. Thank you, thank you, thank you.)
The bit about time - that's directly attributable to last year, though much of "The Final Girl" is generalized. I noticed last year that time stops behaving itself during trauma and recovery. That went in.
Everything went in.
And when I had that horrible time last fall where I wanted everything about writing gone, "The Final Girl" got locked away, shoved aside - as much as it could be. It was almost done, I thought, but how can you tell, with something like this? It didn't feel complete. It felt close. But I was done writing, I was out, I was in hell.
And then, in early January 2014, Lynne turned verbally abusive, knowingly and deliberately using rape/trauma survivor triggers against me in an attempt to shatter me, and Michael turned weird and awful, and I was struggling. In the two weeks between those breakups, I was desperately trying to make sense of life - for the second time in a year, everything had changed on me, everything had been yanked away, and I had to figure out what to do, what I could do.
And in those two nightmare weeks, the last three pieces of "The Final Girl" arrived.
I sat with it and thought, "I think this is done."
When I read it at Arisia (knowing/suspecting how bad things were and were about to get elsewhere in my life), I prefaced it with "This is the first thing I've written Since. I don't know if it's any good; I lack all perspective about my writing these days! But I think it's done, whatever it is.
"This is 'The Final Girl'."
And Julia Rios asked me to submit it to Strange Horizons immediately. Which I managed to do that week, even though everything else collapsed the very next week, and they bought it, and now, here.
Here it is, the thing that came out of me during the worst time of my adult life, the way my brain responded, the wisps that escaped the coffin Judah put my writing in and Michael nailed shut. Here is the thing in me that refused to be killed, the thing that hid when it needed to and fought for escape whenever it could.
The point of the final girl is that she survives.
And here I am.
I would love to discuss this story in comments - both the personal bits and the bits that are direct references to the trope of the Final Girl and about trauma survival. Please, ask me anything.