THE STORY OF A STORY OF A STORY by Jim Cort
“Before I Wake” had its genesis in my desire to try a story entirely in dialog. A few experiments were enough to convince me that some compromise would have to be made, and I wound up producing a story composed of documents and letters and transcripts that I thought still gave the effect I was looking for.
The story languished for while. I finally shipped it off to a house looking for stories to adapt into audio plays on tape cassettes. I’m not going to give the name of the company, because I intend to say mean things about them shortly. There it found a home, and they offered me a chance to do the audio script myself.
My experience with the audio house was less than idyllic. A little background: “Before I Wake” is the story of a man who believes himself threatened by his own dreams. The threat can reach him only when he is asleep. He winds up causing a disturbance and being held in jail, where he tells his story to a police psychiatrist. The original story had an all-male cast. I thought a female voice would provide variety in the audio version.
When I received the recorded cassette, I ws horrified to find my psychiatrist showing up at the county lockup in a party dress, detoured from the country club cotillion. Her whole professional status was undermined. The whole script had been rewritten and had come out pedestrian, cliché-ridden, clumsy and predictable. I had foolishly sold all audio rights to the house from then until the end of time, so there was nothing I could do about it.
So “Before I Wake”, in its radio incarnation, remained a thorn in my side for a long time. However, the story in its original version took off on its own.
In 1989 saw a call for submissions for a new anthology to be called October Dreams, put together by Dave Kubicek and Jeff Mason. The reference to dreams in the title made me think of “Before I Wake”, so I sent it along. A month or so later, the familiar rejection letter arrived, but not so familiar, either. Unlike most rejections, I sensed in this one a genuine reluctance to pass this story by. They mentioned their disappointment with the ending. I was moved to do something I had never done before with any story
I phoned them up.
I called the office number on the letterhead. I can’t remember now if I spoke to Dave or Jeff. I pitched a new ending over the phone. I have no idea where it came from. It was as if the words came out of my mouth at exactly the same moment the ideas came into my head. In the end, Dave said (or maybe it was Jeff), “OK, write it up that way, and we’ll take another look.”
I did and they did and they said yes. We all signed the papers, and everybody was happy. But that’s not the end of the story.
Fast forward 10 years to 1999.
I got a letter from a nice lady at Perfection Learning, a house that publishes educational material. They were putting together a middle school anthology to be called Flights of Fantasy. They had taken the trouble to track me down because they wanted to include “Before I Wake”. (Note to self: always be track-downable.) I was flattered. I must confess I did feel a little strange about becoming required reading. But I said yes and we all signed the papers and everybody was happy.
But that’s not the end of the story.
Fast forward 14 years to 2013.
I had been posting some of my old teaching materials on Teachers pay Teachers. (unsolicited testimonial: teacherspayteachers.org is a sort of clearinghouse where teachers, or former teachers like me, can share materials they’ve designed for their own classrooms and pick up a little money as well.) I came across a quiz on the story “Before I Wake” prepared by Marianne Todd of Sioux City Iowa (not her real name) for her Language Arts class. I got in touch with Ms. Todd. She was happy to hear from me, and told me that the story was a class favorite. I’m glad she didn’t ask me to take the quiz. I’m not at all sure I would have passed.
Deaf Dog Press has come out with a special edition of “Before I Wake” through Smashwords. It contains the original published story along with the original radio play. You can find it at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/527874.
Or, if you happen to be in Sioux City, Iowa, drop by Ms. Todd’s class. She might still have a copy.
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Jim Cort has been writing since the cows left home. He is curretly chief cook and bottle washer at Deaf Dog Press. His novel The Lonely Impulse is available at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/337106.