Origins: “The Dead Man” by Cara Long Corra

In today’s ORIGINS, Cara Long Corra discusses the origins of her story, “The Dead Man,” which appeared  recently in jmww and was chosen as a Longlist Fiction Pick of the Week.

I began writing “The Dead Man” in 2017. It was a story I started but did not finish because I believed I was done with writing entirely. So it sat for well over a year before I came back to it. As a story, it was largely complete, but it needed fine tuning – mostly editing for plot consistency. So I finally returned to it in January of 2019 to apply finishing touches, then began submitting it to small presses. I received about three rejections before realizing it needed more work. I just could not stick the ending – and I say this as a writer who doesn’t believe in big finishes or tidy endings. But you also can’t just pull up stakes and disappear on your reader, so I knew I had to push myself to end the story appropriately.

I knew there was something there with “The Dead Man” that it was, in fact, likely one of my better piecesso that motivated me to see it through. Over the years, I have definitely heard from many an editor stating that they find my pieces to be unfinished or lacking, but they like my voice. Sometimes I will revisit the piece in question but sometimes I won’t. I do think my writing is sparse but I definitely don’t think it’s lacking in emotional content. However, I don’t write my stories with any ideas in mind or an outline. When I feel like writing, I write. And the whole piece usually makes it out in one to two sittings. Then I take a break and edit it. Though I have discovered I need those breaks to be more substantial. I can’t go back to the story in a day or two. Sometimes I need weeks. Sometimes I need a year.

Stylistically, “The Dead Man” is a departure from how I usually write, although 2016 saw the publication of “Unhinged” in Rathalla Review and in August will see “Shredding” published in Crack the Spine. These newer stories (and I say newer because they are the only stories I’ve written and finished over the last three years) have an element of what I think is magical realism and horror. And I would say that’s me exploring new ways to express emotion, to wordlessly add layers to the character and express their emotional state. And in my ordinary or everyday life, I am one of those people who thinks about finding dead bodies. I’m sure that sounds macabre, but I walk about a mile and a half to and from work each day and I traverse a wooded park and semi-empty parking lotsit’s something you read about in the newspaper. The discovery of dead bodies.

But I suppose what readers want to know is why. Why this story? Why these characters? Why a dead man as a central character? And the answer is a very unsatisfying “I don’t know for sure.” I suppose Thomas probably represents something the main character isn’t dealing with. I suspect Thomas isn’t real. I suspect he’s her loneliness or an aspect of her loneliness that she’s trying to rid herself of, but that she also finds comfort in because it’s familiar.  There were times when I was editing the story that I would ask myself those very ‘Why?’ questions. But eventually – after putting it away for about two years, during which time I moved twice – I came to view Thomas more as the kind of thing or object (or emotion or memory) that we drag around with us, something which we imbue with emotional significance, but something which no longer has any practical reason for existing. The old bones no one wants laying around – except that some of us do.

I do.

Cara Long Corra lives in Albany, NY, and works as a statewide affordable housing advocate. Her first (and so far only) collection of short stories, Partly Gone, was published by Unsolicited Press in 2014. 

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