“The Nightingale of Atlantic City” finds a home in Mad Scientist Journal
I thought I would never find a market for this story. Steampunk literature has a large following, but not than many publications are willing to devote page space to it. My story is not the typical Steampunk adventure, but a philosophical drama. After a year of submitting and receiving rejection letters again and again, being the moody, despondent writer I am, I lamented that there was no place in the world for my work. My mentor Jim DeAngelis told me to stop whining and sent me a link to submit my story to Mad Scientist Journal. They wanted Steampunk fiction with an element of mad science and my story was exactly that. So we workshopped my piece at Jersey City Writers, and I submitted it on the day of the journal’s deadline. Three days later it was accepted for publication. “The Nightingale of Atlantic City” will appear in the Spring 2015 issue of Mad Scientist Journal.
This short story has the most interesting backstory of all my works thus far. I had the concept in my mind for years, but I never actually went through with putting it down on paper until last year when I attended a Steampunk Speakeasy in Manhattan. I was approached by a producer for a reality television show about Steampunks. I said, “I would never be on a reality show. I’m a writer.” The woman asked me if I had ever written any Steampunk fiction. I had not, but knowing I had this really great concept for a story, I told her all about it as if I had already written it. She gave me her card and asked me to send it to her when I got a chance. So I ran home and got right to work. This story poured out of my head in a single day. The reason for this was that, I was burdened with the heavy weight of grief and had not yet been able to let go of that pain.
A week before this Steampunk Speakeasy, a woman who was a dear friend to me since I was eleven years old had died young from cancer. Raven Kneally–Jessie to many of us–was an amazing human being. She was a fun-loving free spirit, who was always so good to her friends. She committed to making plans with people. She was a good listener. She had the best sense of humor of anyone I’ve ever known and so many qualities that made her the dearest friend I ever had. I adored her and we endearingly called each other big sister and little sister.
I had lost touch with her in her last year of life. I lived far away and we each had our own local friends, local work, local lives, but I always imagined that when I was done with the big city grind, I would return to Florida and we’d pick up where we left off. As far as I knew she was still in remission, looking beautiful on Facebook, drinking wheat grass shots and living life to the fullest. I didn’t know she was sick at all until I got an e-mail from her mother saying she was in her final days. I drove down as soon as I heard, and when I got there, it was clear that any chance of her getting better was gone. She was so frail, so far gone. This spirited, bombastic girl I remembered had been reduced to a little voice, whispering softly in a void. My heart was broken, but nothing compared to the pain I saw her mother endure, watching helplessly as her only child faded away.
“The Nightingale of Atlantic City” is about an old musician whose automaton is the mechanical memory of his daughter. While writing this story, I felt like a vessel; I was metal, springs and gears, resurrecting a part of her. It was a deeply painful process, but it was the catharsis I needed.
When I sent the first draft to the woman from the speakeasy twenty-four hours after meeting her, she didn’t remember our conversation and chided me for sending unsolicited material. However, she still wanted me to apply to be on the reality show… an offer I did not even dignify with a response. All the same, I am grateful for crossing paths with this drunken TV producer, for she was the catalyst that made me write this story.
I know Raven would have loved it and would have likely cosplayed as the automaton. “The Nightingale of Atlantic City” is dedicated to her. It is a bittersweet farewell to my big sister.
July 21, 2014 / megmerriet / 0