A Pound of Flesh: The Story Behind the Story

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“A Pound of Flesh” is a love story in so many different ways.

Back in 2008 or so, when Twilight was the hottest book series on the planet, my wife, Krissy, was binging on those books while I was hard at work generating stories for my MFA program.

I was in the living room wrestling with some new ideas when she came out of the spare bedroom, her reading area at the time, to take a break.

Krissy knew I wrote stories that were, to put it mildly, far outside of her reading sweet spot. Since my teens, I mimicked my idols such as Stephen King and Jack Ketchum, creating horror stories with varying degrees of brutality. My wife didn’t read them; she couldn’t endure that kind of stuff. We watched the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre one time; she didn’t sleep for three days, so we came to an agreement that she was never obligated to read my horror stories.

During that Twilight binge, she challenged me.

“Why don’t you write a love story? Just to try it?”

So I took the challenge. I wrote a story about an older couple, their love challenged by time and parenthood, but their memories and life tying them together like vines. I just reached the halfway point of the story and didn’t know where to go.

In romantic stories, the couple is typically split apart at the midpoint. Then the protagonist has to “prove his love” and dig down deep to win back the love of his life. I didn’t know how to challenge a rock solid marriage, tempered by time. I didn’t know how to make a dutiful husband prove his love.

I titled the first and incomplete draft of this tale, “Proof of Love,” and left it on my computer, thinking I’d never finish it.

Then, I had a nightmare about a pipe wrench.

I woke up and completed the second half of the story, introducing an elemental character—less a human, more of a force of nature. The same way that The Joker is chaos in The Dark Knight, my antagonist was the dark side of love, fear, and regret. I named him Romeo as a one-off, shorthand choice so I could keep moving with the story.

The second draft was called, “Vines.” I hated that title, and I hated how the vine story was so on the nose. Again, I left it to linger.

I drafted it again, this time, with a little more brutality.

Krissy’s friend was over at our house, and she’s allergic to cats. She was sneezing during her entire visit.

That’s what broke open the ending for me, so I finished it up and read it aloud to my wife one night.

She didn’t sleep a wink. She swore that she would never, ever read anything I read, ever again. The story absolutely terrified her. She was already a Dateline viewer, so I wasn’t really playing fair.

But as a teenager, it was the reaction I always wanted to get from a reader. I longed for the story to see print, to share it with an audience that would hopefully respond the same way Krissy reacted.

However, it was hard to find magazines that took stories of that length, and genre stories at that. I honestly believe that what you just read is a love story of the highest degree, but let’s be honest, it belongs in a horror magazine.

The grind of the MFA program pulled me away from submitting. I put it in my “polished” folder and kept writing. I published my first novel in 2011, then another novel in 2014, The Heart Does Not Grow Back, along with a short story, “Gasoline,” which appeared in Chuck Palahniuk’s handpicked Burnt Tongues collection.

I forgot all about “A Pound of Flesh.”

Then, Jed Ayres, the devilish maestro behind the Noir at the Bar series, asked me for a story for an anthology he was assembling. I still had “Pound,” and I gave it to Jed along with another story, “The Low Man.”

Jed sent out early copies of Noir at the Bar 2 with both of my stories in the advanced reader copy. The Booked. Podcast crew, Livius Nedin and Robb Olson, got ahold of that early copy, and they were immediately attracted to “A Pound of Flesh.”

Jed didn’t take that story. Instead, he took “The Low Man.” That story was shorter, and fit better in the crime-flavored anthology he was putting together.

When Livius and Robb found out, they were on my virtual doorstep. They were about to create the Booked. Anthology, featuring short stories from their podcast guests. I had never been a guest, but they were aware of me and my work, and they wanted to publish “A Pound of Flesh.”

So, they reverse-engineered me into the anthology, taking the story before they interviewed me on the podcast.

Great time to note—if you want more stories like “A Pound of Flesh,” please pick up a copy of the Booked. Anthology. It’s a rich and diverse anthology of stories, and you won’t be disappointed.

When that anthology was released, “A Pound of Flesh” was the first story. I saw raw reactions to the tale on social media, some of them cursing my existence in the best of ways. The folks that reviewed it, like the This is Horror crew, raved about the story.

Simply put, I had a great time seeing that tale in print, and now that a few years have passed, I wanted to bring it back.

The thing is, I’ve always loved it. It’s truly a love story because I adored writing it, my wife inspired it, and I love the fun, weird way that it finally came to life. So I’m breathing life back into it, and giving it to my current (and hopefully some future) readers.

I’m fully aware that no one reads the story notes, so if you made it this far, you qualify for a literary gold medal. But honestly, shouldn’t you be going? The story is over, and there’s a knock at the door. A pretty persistent knock. You might want to get it.

It’s for you.

Fred Venturini

Fred Venturini is an author and freelance business consultant. He grew up in Patoka, Illinois. In 2014, his story "Gasoline" was featured in Chuck Palahniuk's Burnt Tongues anthology. His short fiction has been published in the Booked Anthology, Noir at the Bar 2, and Surreal South. The Heart Does Not Grow Back, published by Picador in 2014, is his first novel. He lives in Southern Illinois with his wife and daughter.

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