When Alisa approached us about doing one of the Twelve Planets, we readily agreed. Then, having sprung her trap, she added “But make it more science fictiony.”
Cue Mo Szyslak from The Simpsons … “Whaaaaaa?”
Undeterred, and a little heavy of heart, we two dark fantasy and horror girls trundled away dragging our feet. We were in the middle of other projects and deadlines: both finishing novels and various commissioned short stories, Lisa also digging her way through her first year as a full-time academic and Angela also completing two short story collections and a novella, as well as teaching for the Queensland Writers Centre. We Skyped. We emailed. We kvetched about the collection in general. We talked space shuttles and other planets, what the value of an embryo might be in a distant future where procreation had become more and more difficult for the human race.
We nearly gave up and ran away the moment we wrote a scene that started with the words: ‘Robyn eased back; the shuttle was new. Very new, and its controls were touchy, responding almost to her every breath. She’d flown a much earlier model before, but never one so well-maintained, so responsive, so in touch with its own gravity-defying aerodynamics. So freaking expensive – her old apartment, the one she’d had to give up when she couldn’t make the payments, hadn’t cost as much as this vessel.’
This was not our writing.
But we are nothing if not professional – not to mention astonishingly stubborn – and we kept throwing ideas back and forth. We pulled away from stories of a far-flung future and brought things closer to home, a not too far distant Australia. Our initial notes read something like:
Badger birth woman
Fish changing sex in different temperature waters
Orphans and body parts.
Those fragments were built into The Female Factory. The first story in the collection is ‘Vox’, in which “The souls of lost embryos are never quite gone, never wasted; captured in software, they give electronics their voice.” ‘Vox’ was Lisa’s baby; she had the first spark that began the tale, and it was the product of idea-hording.
Some of the best ideas are gleaned from overhearing banter on the bus, or from chatting with friends, or even half-listening to dull presentations at work: you mishear something and bam! it’s a story idea… Or, in this case, someone says something striking in conversation, not giving it a second thought (forgetting you’re a writer and will ruthlessly collect story-seeds), and you tuck that image away for months or years, waiting for the right circumstances in which to use it.
That sounds rather mercenary, doesn’t it? It wasn’t meant to be so; but when Lisa’s friend told her a sad tale about another friend (it’s always “a friend of a friend” in these situations, isn’t it…) who’d had trouble conceiving, who’d done IVF and the whole nine yards, and no doubt would have done some of the things Kate and Nick do in this piece – and when this friend finally fell pregnant, but not as she’d imagined, the outcome really stuck in Lisa’s memory.
(PSA: you’ll never know what writers will find striking, so there’s no use in censoring what you say to them. Whether it’s personal or totally silly, the things you reveal — knowingly or unknowingly — might spark something in their minds. Then again, they might not. One way or the other, writers are always listening.)
From that little seed of inspiration, a series of questions arose that set ‘Vox’ in motion. What if, Lisa wondered (many weeks later) you finally found yourself pregnant after years of failure? And what if circumstances prevented you from being truly happy about this? How would you feel, desperate for children, having to let them go? But then what if technology could offer a substitute for the children you’d lost? Would this replacement mollify or outrage you? Would it be enough?
In ‘Vox’, we explored some possibilities, and the answers may not be for the faint of heart.