“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.
Tomorrow, we publish the fifth and penultimate short story in our Gods and Monsters season: Duck Duck God by José Iriarte. In order to prepare for the occasion, today we are thrilled to have José over to talk about his inspirations and influences behind the story.
Give a warm welcome to José, folks!
Duck Duck God was conceived for a contest run by the Codex Writers’ Group, called the Title Rummage Sale. The basic premise was each participant would take a title crafted by somebody else and create a story for it. The title for this story was provided by the amazing Caroline Yoachim, who is one of my favorite short story authors.
When I saw the title, I immediately envisioned a beleaguered elementary school teacher dealing with the fallout when one of her young students was turned into a god. The possibilities just opened up to me as soon as I thought about it.
I don’t tend to write funny stories, and I’m also a writer who enjoys the destination more than the journey. This story was a real departure for me, because writing it felt a lot like play. I just mentally walked through a teacher’s day, and found so many things to have fun with. One of my favorite aspects of writing this was cataloguing the hijinks that could ensue: trying to get a little god to come in from recess, managing inter-child conflicts, keeping an impetuous little superpowered boy on task, games of chance when one of the players was virtually omnipotent. What would a magical little boy do to the school cafeteria? I had similar fun envisioning Nicky’s home life. Certainly he wasn’t going to only create havoc at school. Of course he would live in a castle, ride a pony everywhere, have a Lamborghini.
I couldn’t just play, though. Sooner or later I always have to take a serious turn, and in this case, the farcical nature of this story gave me an interesting filter through which to examine the ongoing evolution of public schooling. One of my two or three favorite books, which I constantly try to press into the hands of young teachers, is Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman. (Did you spot the homage to this book I placed in the text?) As this goes to print I am four days into my twenty-third year as a full-time classroom teacher, and this became my chance to update Up the Down Staircase with the latest in pedagogical bureaucracy, and also throw in a fantasy element.
Here I got a chance to poke fun at intra-teacher politics, sometimes unsupportive administrators, hoop-jumping foolishness (like writing the alphanumeric codes for which standards we are addressing in class each day somewhere on the board, as if those codes mean anything to anybody), high-stakes testing of course, and the occasionally fraught relationships between teachers and the parents of their students.
I think the real heart of the story is about the absurd demands that are often placed on teachers—and about how teachers do love the kids and the teaching, when they are allowed to do their job. Monica genuinely likes Nicky, despite the challenges he poses, and she shows repeatedly in the story that she actually does have the kid skills to teach him—she just needs a little help from all the other stakeholders.
The last decade or so has been a challenging time to be a public school teacher, as a certain political segment has decided to use teachers and teacher unions as punching bags. We’ve seen public money diverted to private enterprises not held to the same level of accountability, we’ve seen public employee pensions raided, we’ve seen upwards of twenty-five percent of our teaching time given over to a recurring stream of high stakes tests, and we’ve seen our salaries remain stagnant through all of this. Teacher turnover and teachers exiting the field are at an all-time high. To stay in this career right now, you have to really love the work and you have to love kids.
I guess what I’m saying is I wish some all-powerful being would come down from on high and give me the ability to focus more on the kids and the teaching, and less on bureaucracy and politics.
Or at least just give me a Lamborghini.
José Iriarte is a Cuban-American writer, high school math teacher, and father of two. He lives in EPCOT with his spouse Lisa. His fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Fireside Fiction, Terraform, and other venues. Learn more at his website: www.labyrinthrat.com.
How to Get the Story
Duck Duck God will be published officially on August 6, 2017. You can purchase the DRM-free ebook (EPUB, MOBI) that contains the story as well as an essay from the author available for purchase on all major ebook retail sites and directly from us.
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