Getting this publication was exciting for a few reasons. One, the novelty of seeing my writing in print still hasn’t worn off (you may also find my writing in print here and here). Two, humor and comedy have a special place in my heart, so being part of a journal centered on that theme just feels right. Three, this was an old, not-so-good story that I nearly gave up on, but I dusted it off, revised it, and turned it into something good, so placing it somewhere cool is a reminder to follow through on things.
I wrote this story years ago, when I was working as a stand-in on the movie Divergent. For those who don’t know what a stand-in is, basically you just creep around in the shadows of a movie set trying not to get in anyone’s way all day, then once in a while when they’re setting up lighting and cameras, you literally stand in the spot your actor is going to stand in, because they get paid too much to waste their time standing there while people adjust lights and what not.
Being a stand-in gave me a lot of time on set to read and write, and at first, motivated by the movie itself and the recent success of Hunger Games, I thought I’d try my hand at writing a dystopian YA novel that’d be a prime candidate for being made into a movie someday. My premise was this: a death-centered society in which people got to choose how they’d die. All deaths would be carried out publicly and played on televisions everywhere. In retrospect, that I even temporarily thought this could be made into a bestselling YA series and movie franchise seems both absurd and and endearingly naive. Divergent and Hunger Games have some violence, but not the level of onscreen gruesome death that I had in mind.
Once I got to writing my dystopian YA masterpiece, I realized I was writing a short story, not a novel, and my audience was adults, not teenagers. I did some rewriting and revising to convert my novel pages into a short story, but ultimately pushed the idea to the side. That was in 2013. Thankfully I held on to the papers (yes, I was writing by hand, since, like I said, I was doing this writing while creeping in corners of the Divergent set.)
Fast forward to 2017, when I was nearing graduation in my MFA program. I decided I needed to work on revising and finishing what I started–even if that meant revisiting things I’d written prior to entering the program in 2014–instead of always being quick to move onto my next exciting idea. I pulled out a bunch of pre-MFA writing and got to work, sorting through it all and seeing what could be salvaged, polished up, or rewritten, and what should be tossed. “Federal Death Registry” still felt fun and special to me, so here it is!
Fun fact: Drew, the character, is based on a real Chicago comedian named “Drew.” In the original draft, I called him “Mark” and changed his physical characteristics so he wouldn’t resemble the comedian. Last year, when I was revising, however, I was very into mixing more reality into my fiction (that was when I kept using characters named after myself), so I revised Mark into Drew and made him more like the person I’d drawn inspiration from originally.
Now that I’m thinking about this idea again…maybe it’s not fully finished. Maybe someday I could revisit this, drop the YA angle, skip the novel, and go directly to writing a screenplay geared toward adults?